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Torture: In the Company of Evil

August 9, 2008

The International Red Cross has ruled that the United States of America has engaged in a sanctioned program of torture at the U. S. Naval Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This finding (by the world’s preeminent body on such matters) is an undeniable basis for future charges of “war crimes”.

The topics of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” seldom find their way into the forefront of my mind. When confronted with such topics I find myself reflecting upon names like Hitler, Stalin and the horrors they wrought. Although this finding by the International Red Cross is not remotely on the same order of magnitude; I am compelled to consider the meaning and impact of this shocking finding or torture. After all, throughout the storied history of this country, America has been held up as the world example for preserving freedom and elevating causes that serve humanity. Even when the matter of the disposition and treatment of enemy combatants has been in question. Why? Primarily because the treatment of thousands of United States and Allied servicemen by the Nazi’s and Japanese during World War II plummeted beneath any acceptable world standard of humane treatment. There is a standard. There are rules of war and those that govern the treatment of those held captive.

So what happened? How did these proud United States of America get here? Why are we now central to a discussion about something that this nation abhors and has historically opposed with such honor and passion? But perhaps most importantly, what have we accomplished by engaging in such horrid tactics and at what cost? These are the questions I hope many Americans attempt to answer if only as a matter of conscience. No doubt some would argue that “desperate times called for desperate measures”. Some might also argue that you must “fight fire with fire”(I wonder if that is what the Viet Cong were thinking?). The brutal 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was certainly the catalyst for an American response which I believed was justified. After all, “you don’t tug on Superman’s cape”. I was as shocked and angry as any American and in large part I remain so. In spite of the questions that continue to swirl around the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today, I think most Americans knew we had cause to find those responsible and bring them to justice. But torture? That’s not what we Americans do. That’s not what we Americans stand for.

Sadly, at this juncture, there is little that we are being told by our government leadership about this matter that can be relied upon as truth. The truth is what we have done in engaging in a program of torture at Guantanamo Bay is wrong. In the future there may be cloudy arguments about what actually transpired. There may be attempts to justify the methods as necessity. There may be discussions which attempt to explain away the risks of water boarding or other torture procedures. There may never be anyone charged or held responsible. But there can be no questioning the well established standards of treatment for human prisoners be they enemy combatants or international detainees.

The International Red Cross has presented its case. I am not qualified to provide a true professional or ethical opinion on what torture may or may not be. I have only my moral instinct to rely upon in attempting to reconcile this within myself. My inability absorb and digest this in a way that is emotionally palatable has failed me. There is a “creepy factor” in the concept of torture that sickens me. It resides in my psyche along side such horrific concepts as rape, pedophilia, dismemberment and necrophilia. Something within the range of human horrors that defies logic and implies cognitive imbalance or social deviance. Behavior (in this case) that casts a macabre pall on the American image and legacy, and which has emblazoned an indelible mark of evil that has national and global implications.

Just as those of our servicemen who were tourtured in wars past, the detainee victims at Guantanamo Bay have had their lives changed forever. Some of whom, however few in number that may be, have committed no crime whatsoever. And as the world watched the criminal and sadistic behaviors of past evil regimes, today the world is again watching.

I have served. I have personally seen the product of conflict. I understand the mandates of the Geneva Conventions. Mine is the single voice of an American. A voice that represents little more than a whisper. And with this voice I say to the honorable among us, that I am ashamed.

And to those who were wronged, and to the world as it watches: “I am sorry”.

L. A. Walker, © Leon A. Walker

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