There's one thing
consistent in the character of US President George W. Bush. He's predictable.
Why am I not surprised that he vetoed a bill approved by Congress to outlaw
waterboarding. After all, this is the man who rubber-stamped Guantanamo,
manipulated the Geneva Conventions, turned his back on the International
Criminal Court and whose military minions allowed the obscenities of Abu Ghraib
to take place.
By refusing to abide
by the wishes of House and Senate members, Bush declares he is a law unto
himself. Hardly an example of the sort of the democracy he wants to export.
Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy has declared the veto one of the most
"shameful acts" of the Bush presidency.
president always has an excuse for ignoring appeals from decent Americans and
his allies to bring back the respect for human rights for which the US was once
internationally acclaimed. "Banning waterboarding from the CIA's scope
would remove 'one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror'," he
Based on that line of
thinking, why stop at drowning? If waterboarding is that effective surely
gouging out a person's eye, tearing out his toenails or smashing his fingers
would be even more so. How about arresting the suspect's entire family, like
the Israelis do, before tearing down the family house? That would bring
results, wouldn't it?
torture. Make no mistake. When US National Intelligence Chief Mike McConnell
was asked during his Senate confirmation hearing whether waterboarding
constituted torture, he said it "would be torture" if it were applied
to him and labelled it "repugnant." However, he stopped short of
pronouncing it torture, which translated means it's acceptable as long as it's
inflicted upon somebody else.
US Defence Secretary
Robert Gates has confirmed, "No member of the US military is allowed to do
it, period." The FBI and other internal intelligence agencies have rejected
it as being either "unnecessary" or "counterproductive,"
according to The New York Times. But let's put aside the moral niceties for a
moment, as well as our instinctive revulsion that a state that considers itself
the bastion of human rights would stoop so low. The fact is not only does
torturing a person not work, any confessions extracted by its use are not
accepted as evidence in most courts of law. There is substantial research to
support this contention but think about it for a moment.
If you were jailed,
humiliated, stripped naked, made to contort and hold your body in painful
stress positions for hours, and were then held under water to the point of near
death, you'd say anything to end the horror, wouldn't you. And you would
probably sign any confession put in front of you even if you were entirely
innocent. You might even swear that you bumped into Elvis on a number 30 bus
last week or went partying in Cancun with Osama Bin Laden.
Secondly, if the
American head of state supports the torture of foreign detainees then what's
preventing other countries from adopting a similar line and torturing
Americans? Now that wouldn't go down very well in Washington would it? The
Pentagon threw a fit when early in the Iraq war captured US soldiers were shown
on Iraqi television drinking tea, the poor lambs.
doesn't only harm its intended victim it also harms the torturer. An experiment
conducted in 1961 by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, found
that most ordinary people would carry out acts that conflicted with their
conscience when ordered to do so by a person in authority.
Inspired by the trial
of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Milgram designed his simulated torture
experiments to discover whether Eichmann's accomplices were inherently evil or
were merely following his orders.
The results were
astonishing. Torture not only damages the tortured it unleashes the primeval
dark side of the torturer.
Former US Army
interrogator Tony Lagouranis would, no doubt, agree with Milgram's findings. A
multilingual, well-educated and cultured young man, he joined the Army in 2001
as a translator.
In January 2004, he
was posted to Abu Ghraib and assigned to special projects team set up to
investigate high value detainees. Lagouranis was deeply troubled by the abuses
he was forced to witness at Abu Ghraib and, later on, in Fallujah. Eventually
he blew the whistle but "Not once did I hear of any arrests as a result of
an abuse report," he said.
Lagouranis was later
to tell the Chicago Reader, "I saw barbaric traits begin to seep out of me
and other good respectable people . . . good Americans who never should have
been put in that position to begin with. They have two choices -- disobey
direct orders or become monsters. It's a lonely road when everyone else is
taking the other one."
Torture robs society
of its humanity, ruins lives, scars souls and is a noneffective means to an
end. Those who support it should be made to endure it. Perhaps then they'll
experience a change of heart; then again, perhaps not. Republican presidential
hopeful John McCain, who was tortured by the Vietnamese for five years and
spent his life campaigning against torture, actually voted against the bill and
supports Bush's veto.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.