The Lord of Torture

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: George W. Bush Views: 4658

Look! It's the Energizer President! On and on he goes, never departing from script.

"We're facing," he said, about the same time that he was threatening to veto the Senate's anti-torture amendment, "a radical ideology with unalterable objectives: to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world."

In the closed circuit of George Bush's innocence, he may well have no idea that the United States under his watch - military heavy, pre-emptive invader, keeper of Abu Ghraib - has become in the world's eyes the embodiment of the very bogeyman he keeps warning us about. Even as his own party unravels, he continues to cudgel us with scare tactics. Guess he has no choice; without our collective fear intact, his ends-justify-the-means agenda is lost.

But torture?

Ninety senators, including 46 Republicans, couldn't take it anymore. They got behind ex-POW John McCain's amendment to the $440 billion military spending bill and voted to affirm a value almost everyone would have called, until a few years ago, unassailably American:

"No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," the amendment reads in part.

The president claims to listen to God. What will it take to make him listen to us?

That such language should be controversial rends the prevailing complacency. Look at how far and how quickly we've drifted from our national moorings. This is the power of fear. When a true believer gets ahold of it, nothing is sacred. 

And born-again Bush, as the BBC alerted us last week, is possessed with the fire of the Lord. "I am driven with a mission from God," he told Palestinian delegates to an Israeli-Palestinian summit conference in 2003. "God would tell me, 'George, go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did. And then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.' And I did."

As far as we know, in Bush World, torture is divinely sanctioned as well. As a private citizen, of course, he can believe whatever he wants. But he's our president! How can this be? In his self-righteousness and disconnected zeal, he's precisely the type of leader our country was designed to keep from power. What happened?

A year and a half after the Abu Ghraib scandal shocked the world, torture and arbitrary, indefinite detention are still SOP in occupied Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. The White House claims it needs the "flexibility" that water-boarding, sexual humiliation and similar interrogation techniques give it - as though three years of such flexibility have produced results.

The ignorance on display here is fundamental. The principled stand against cruel and degrading punishment is a strength, not a weakness. The Bush administration, in failing to understand this, is bleeding America of its moral vitality and reducing it to a state of abject, bullying weakness. Scott Galindez, writing for, asks, "So is that the noble cause our soldiers are dying for? The right to torture Iraqis?"

McCain, speaking about the amendment, discussed his own experience as a POW in Vietnam: "Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment - a few of them even unto death. But every one of us, every single one of us, knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them."

How dare the president deprive this nation of its moral strength? What will the long-term consequences be?

At Guantanamo Bay, between 200 and 500 detainees are well into the second month of a hunger strike to protest the ghastly limbo the Bush administration has consigned them to; 21 are being force-fed. They're shackled to their beds with feeding tubes pushed up their noses and into their stomachs, according to Reuters.

The hunger strike is all the detainees have left: "Look, I'm dying a slow death in this place as it is," said one of them, a Libyan national, as quoted by his lawyer to the New York Times. "I don't have any hope of fair treatment, so what have I got to lose?"

This is happening in our name, against the will of the vast majority of the population. A year and a half after the lurid photos of our interrogational excesses shocked the world, little or nothing has changed. The president claims to listen to God. What will it take to make him listen to us?

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at [email protected]  or visit his Web site at

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: George W. Bush
Views: 4658

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Older Comments:
Bruce: no harm no foul. I appreciate you coming here and discussing the issues and being willing to hear our views. I think that it is important to confront a dangerous policy of eroding civil liberties in 'the war on terror'. The legitimization of torture is just one facet of this, there are others, that are equally serious. Case in point: a man named Padilla, a US Citizen, has had his consitutional rights overshadowed by the excesses of the 'patriot' act. Held without formal charge or trial, this is a violation of habeas corpus that is a conrerstone to the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.
As a friend of mine said, if you make people scared enough, they'll sacrifice personal liberty in the name of security, and I think we are all a little naive if we think that the Red Scares of McCarthy era couldn't return in another guise, say, the 'war on terror'.

I'm glad you've thought twice about whether or not torture is acceptable, and understand that its practice leads down a decidedly un-American (in my opinion) road.

Pray our fellow Americans do the same.

Peter and Hudd,

I am sorry if I gave the impression I approve of torture. I was exploring whether there would be an instance where banning it outright would be detrimental to the overall good. Your arguments were persuasive. It gets back to the end doesn't justify the means. We should then send the military an unequivocal message and be willing to stand fast against any possible consequences.

Pray that Osama has that same realization.

Thank you Hudd, God bless you as well, sir. I totally agree with the points Hudd has raised. Bruce, you have to understand that we can't engage in wrongful behavior just because someone else is doing it. Follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion in your head and you can see it leads down a very dark path indeed.

The simple fact is, we need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. You can't claim to stand for jutice and freedom, but only when and if it suits you and expect other people to take you seriously (and they don't take us seriously, by the way).

Alas, Bruce, for God's sake man, Peter served it to you on a platter, still you don't get it? Or you try to legitimize that which is criminal? Let me give you some directives to this issue:

1)A highly cultural nation with an established ethical system, taught to their generation through their educational institution, must, I reiterate,MUST uphold those values at any cost. We are not going to preach water and drink wine, that's hypocracy. Although, unfortunately enough, there are quite a number of nations in the world that would make recourse to torture, a nation of the cultural and ethical values of USA should not take those tyranies as their role model and thus USA become a pupil in torture matters to third and fourth world countries. What next? If Iraq had a totalitarian regime, why not install a similar one in USA together with her methods of torture. If we uphold justice, as we pretend, it should be blind. Justice is not justice unless deals equally with every human. In USA, a serial killer has the same court procedures as a tax violator. If this justice is only for US citizens, then USA is an apartheit nazi type of fascist government, very much alike Hitler's. If USA wants to deliver justice, then American justice must be conveyed even as a mean of emancipation.

2)Nothing was ever achieved through torture, unless false information that led to unwarrented wars, like that of Iraq. People under torture when they know nothing of the things asked in order to escape pain, will fabricate a plausible concoction. In case there was some valuable info to take out from a prisoner, there was no way in hell, US intelligence could confirm that, otherwise why the need for torture? Then, again, the location and patterns of operations change continually with the guerrillas whereever they operate, exactly for the purpose of not being discovered through the divulgence of any one caught. These render torture as ineffective and useless, done by low souls and a shallow mind


I concede that torture is wrong and should not be condoned.

I still am grappling with how to deal with a foe that follows no formal rules and acts with random violence against the west with only vague objectives. Who do we negotiate with? How do we open a dialogue? To whom do we discuss the rules of war? This is not a conventional war and does not lend itself to conventional rules. Rules are rules only if both parties agree.

I worry about unilaterally ruling out any given tactic against an enemy that may not have similar reservations.



I see your point. However, I think that most would argue (whether it was true or not), that nations conduct war in order to 'defend themsevles'. That is, most are willing to accept that killing others in self defense is understandable. Through a long and convoluted train of thinking along these lines, our own government has gotten most Americans to accept our invasion of Iraq as legitimate, even when 20% of the casualties are children. Thus, acts of war and acts of murder are differentiated (a simple example, I grant, but I'm sure you follow me) and not held to be the same. However, we do have war-crimes.
But back to torture: while most are willing to accept acts in self-defense up to and including the death of one's attacker as legitimate, I'm afraid that the same can't be said of torture. Serial killers very often torture their victims to death, be we don't toture them when (or if) they are executed. In other words, torture is consensually agreed as an abrogation of human behavior, and an activity that is not under any circumstances inside the realm of legitimacy. So my response is, torture is unacceptable, even if it is conducted by others.


You are right. Torture is wrong. So is murder. Yet every armed service in the world is trained to kill. Somehow we seem to accept the fact the murder in the name of war is not murder. If we are to carve out torture as somehow worse than murder, we should have some agreement between the belligerents that says it is so.

This brings me back to my point that it is war that is evil, sometimes a necessary evil, but evil just the same. Dressing up war in clean uniforms and "moral conduct" doesn't change its fundamental nature. If we unilaterally say war is immoral and therefore we will not enter into it, we invite enslavement by the biggest and the meanest bully in the world. Therefore we have to accept war as a necessary evil and hope to avoid it by maintaining a strong deterrent and skilled diplomatic and intelligence corps.

Likewise, if we unilaterally forbid the use of torture, we invite torture of our own servicemen by foes without fear of retaliation. We can show the strength of our society by the humane treatment of prisoners without revealing weakness of stomach by forbidding what may in the future be needed to win. Use of an atomic weapon would be abhorrent to most of us, but forbidding its use under any circumstance would negate its benefit as a deterrent and increase the likelihood of war.

To the extent that our leaders do not follow our own laws, we need to keep their feet to the fire. The strength of any democracy is only as strong as the engagement of its people and the freedom of its press. Just as important is the willingness of leaders to step forward and run for office, lead for the benefit of the people, and step down peacefully when their term is over. We all have our work to do.



With all due respect (and I really mean that), stop the intellectualizing, step back for a second and just admit that torture is wrong. Plain and simple.

See, wasn't that easy? By the way, many of the 'detainees' as some call them, have not been formally charged with any crimes; and not a few have finally been released to their own recognizance. I might add that the Muslim chaplain that was on site was also wrongfully accused of anti-American activities.

But back to torture: of course Osama and Sadam don't respect the Geneva Convention. But that' snot the point, we don't stoop to the level of murderers and despots in this country (or, we aren't supposed to, anyway). What is more, torture is officially against US policy and the Constitution. Ever hear of cruel and unusual punishment?

And further to the point, we have also been outsourcing torture. That is, we have been sending prisoners from the US (or wherever we catch them) to countries that do not have official legislation prohbiting torture.

What does this accomplish, I'd like to ask, aside from the erosion of the principles on which this country was founded. God help us all.

Continued from previous post

Guantanamo presents such a dilemma. Assuming these detainees are as presented, they are sworn enemies of the United States, vow to our destruction, represent a non-signatory of the Conventions, and show no sign of following the "rules" of war. If I were their interrogator, how would I balance my abhorrence of putting undue pressure on my detainee versus fear of missing an opportunity to gain information that could prevent another WTC destruction? Who do I serve?

If we grant all foes the rights of signatories of the Convention, what incentive do the Osamas of the world have to sign and follow the Conventions? Professing unilateral adherence may in fact put our soldiers at risk and make us look hypocritical when forced to lower ourselves to stop torture of our own troops.

In spite of the above, I believe that we can and should do better than Abu Ghraib. We have some responsibility as a super-power to set the standard. This was a breakdown in leadership at some level and somewhat due to mixed messages from the very top. At the end of the day our soldiers should feel proud of themselves and should command the respect of the civilians at home. The ones who have disrespected themselves and their country will pay the price.

I suggest that instead of tying the hands of the people who protect us, we should give them reasonable guidelines and hold them accountable for their discretion. If Osama would like his foot soldiers treated with due respect, then he should sign his agreement, demonstrate his adherence to the Conventions, and decry the beheading of innocents in Iraq.

I agree that damage has been done to our reputation in the international world. I am in support of the no-torture law to send an unambiguous message to the military as to what is acceptable and what is not.

However, before I get too high on my soapbox it is good to remember that war forces us down to the lowest common denominator. The very fact that two parties are at war crystallizes the point that communication and negotiation has failed and that trust has been abrogated. War should only be a fight for survival and as such, survival may hinge on doing what in peacetime might be repugnant. Wars are won by soldiers willing to put their own lives and future peace of mind on the line toward the singular goal of winning. My point is that it is war itself that is evil. It should be avoided at all cost, but once engaged, fought with the single-minded goal of winning. As far as the morality in war, the Geneva Conventions were not set up with any particular moral goal in mind, but rather as a gentleman's agreement make war a bit more palatable. A bit like the Middle Ages agreement to ban crossbows as they might pierce the armor of the nobility.

That said, there is a strong place in the world for the Geneva Conventions. Having some basic rules of war makes the evil of war a bit more palatable for the bureaucrats at home and gives some guidance and protection for men in service. That is if both parties are signatories and are faithful in execution. To put ourselves at a disadvantage at war by unilaterally holding to a certain standard may put our civilization at risk. I have no faith that Osama or Saddam have much respect for the Geneva Conventions.

Continue next post

America has very little "moral vitality" or strength or anything else you're selling. Bush is not so far removed from the populace. Bush is as "average American Joe" as it gets. America has always been a bully. Remember the havoc America caused in several nations throughout South America during the communism scare (take a look and you will notice how similar those scare tactics are to Islamic Fundamentalism)? Remember the Tuskeegee experiments? Japanese Concentration camps? The American Indians? Slavery? On some levels, I can even respect Americans who say, "Listen, we invaded those countries because we're America and we can do that. If we want something we take it i.e. Oil, power, continued hegemony throughout the middle east." At least it shows their true intentions.

This country is great, I love it here, I never fail to point that out. But it's not known throughout the world for its morals, scruples, and overwhelming virtue. American Foreign policy does nothing for the sake of being moral. Every single bit of it is give and take. There was no political gain to help the Rwandan people so America did nothing. There are so many other countries besides Iraq and Afghanistan that could use America's "help". I am tired of hearing that rhetoric over and over about the surfeit of moral attitudes of citizens of this country and its government. That's the BS the government uses to keep the sheep in line. You can love this place without being one of the sheep.

I agree with a lot of what you said regarding Bush. But, the belief that passing of an anti-torture law will actually make a difference in the tactics of the US military (i.e. CIA and other reconnaissance groups) is nave and idealistic. Those guys will do what they want because they exist in their own fiefdoms with very little accountability. Idealism is great, but when that idealism turns to self-delusion, allows us to turn a blind eye to who we are, its time for a self-assessment.


In life you get "hedgehogs" and "foxes", 90% of the people just follow instruction and keep disciplines in order to build walls and fences around themselves. This, they say, is to keep them safe and secure. Foxes, on the other hand,will find a means of breaking the fence or scale the wall-no matter how many times they encounter a change in it. The fox, by its nature, will think out ways to get to its goal and the hedgehog will by nature just follow to mend the fence in order to secure itself. There are thinkers and there are followers; and 90% of the people are followers, no matter how high the office they may hold, they can only act upon advice they receive. Most, if not all, democratically elected leaders are hedgehogs as it is easier for the foxes to steer towards its goal. And yes! Bush is a hedgehog, the best example of its kind as he would not have had a second term if he was a fox.If Iraq was a theat to world peace because of weapons of mass destruction, then America in the hand of Bush is a timebomb ready to explode any minute. Just imagine that this monkey has got nuclear weapons at his disposal!Is that not the biggest threat in this world?

It's hard to imagine any of those ninety senators voting for a Supreme Court nominee the president has promised them feels the same way he feels about all the issues. After all, very little else seems to be known about her--other than what the president has been assuring the American public.

Ramadan Mubarak!


I doubt Bush means what he says! he just cornered himself and have no other option other than keep going his way to avoid impeachement.
if you put yourself in the shoes of someone who find himself president in the whitehouse, you will understand easy why someone like Bush had to play the messenger of God Card. especialy, if the first statistics on your desk indicate more than %60 of the Americans are brainwashed by the church administration.

the wild wide west culture is composed of two stages: The Club and the Church. After your body get baptised in the club, you are directed to have your brain baptised in church.