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Enhanced interrogation, enhanced shame

“A decision must be made in the life of every nation…when it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy to rest survival upon what is expedient.”

The words belong to Judge Dan Haywood, played by Spencer Tracy, and were written by Abby Mann in his Oscar-winning 1961 screenplay “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Accepting his award, Mann said, “A writer worth his salt at all has an obligation not only to entertain but to comment on the world in which he lives.”

Indeed, Mann’s “Judgment” message resonates today as we digest last month’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s release of a 524-page summary of its report on the CIA’s torturing American-held detainees. Directed by Stanley Kramer, the film’s fictional characters represent real life German judges and officials who were defendants during the actual Nuremberg trials of 1945-1949. In both mid-20th century Nazi Germany and our country’s previous administration-directed torture processes, the rule of law was subverted by individuals who were serving the political ends of high level government officials.



The Senate committee report describes the CIA’s secretly directed torture events in stunning factual detail but avoids making moral arguments. In a Dec. 21 editorial, the New York Times argued that “the report erases any lingering doubt about (the acts’) depravity and illegality.”

That “Judgment’s” message is relevant to American torture practice is precisely the issue that challenges our national moral fiber in this new year and beyond. Most of Nuremberg’s real life defendants received sentences ranging from long prison terms to death. It is accepted fact that the recent perpetration of American torture was directed from the top during the George W. Bush presidential years. It would be morally repugnant to let the perpetrators of these acts walk without legal challenge. Our historic principles demand that they be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, the same standard used in the Nuremberg trials. If found guilty they should be given harsh sentences. This includes former Vice-President Dick Cheney who has acknowledged that he authorized these acts and as recently as two weeks ago said that he would do it again. He told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he had no problem with torturing 25 percent of the detainees that turned out to be innocent “as long as we achieve(d) our objective.” Although in Cheney’s logic the end justifies the means, that’s not the American way.



McClatchy D.C. News has reported that a senior intelligence official described “constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and (Defense Secretary) Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” When Bush administration Justice Department officials rejected requests to provide legal approval for these acts, the administration shopped other personnel until they got the legal backing they wanted.

It’s evident that they knew the use of torture to gain the ends they sought was improper. Instead of calling it torture, they hid behind a rather transparent euphemism: Enhanced interrogation techniques. More appropriately, call it enhanced shame.

Torture is illegal. It’s banned both by federal law and by an international treaty, which the United States ratified in 1994.

Sen. John McCain (R-ARIZ), a torture victim himself, has charged some defenders of the CIA program with whitewashing torture. “You can’t claim that tying someone to the floor and having them freeze to death is not torture,” he said according to the New York Times, and that the United States “tried and hung Japanese war criminals for waterboarding Americans in World War II.” The CIA torture policies, he said, have “stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.”

In 2009, General David Petraeus, coincidentally echoing Judge Haywood, told Fox News “I don’t think we should be afraid to live our values. That’s what we’re fighting for, it’s what we stand for…”

It’s unfortunate that President Obama has not endorsed making accountable those people in the previous administration that condoned, authorized, directed and continue to approve these blatantly anti-American practices done in our name. The Times editorial argued that “The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down.”

The Nuremberg criminals were protected by their own government. The American way demands that we not do the same. We should not fall to a level where, in Dan Haywood’s words, we participate “in a nationwide, government-organized system of cruelty and injustice in violation of every moral and legal principle known to all civilized nations.”


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