Op-Ed: Stand Up for Our Soldiers
The American Bar Association stood up this week for our soldiers posted around the world now, and those who will be posted worldwide in the future, and for the American ideals for which they fight.
We urged our government to treat prisoners under our control the way we want other governments to treat our people who fall captive to them. We reminded our leaders that what we visit upon our prisoners can be visited upon our own people.
Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations pose a real threat to the United States. That threat creates tension between our need to interrogate prisoners to obtain potentially life-saving information, and our legal standards that ban torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
But we are a nation pledged to the law – not because of blind allegiance to obscure history, but because we know that it is the law that shields us, from ourselves, from each other, from would-be tyrants, or from passionately angry mobs. When the law controls, vengeance and whim and expediency become irrelevant. We expect and demand that other countries adhere to internationally accepted norms of behavior, expressed in the laws we have joined with them in adopting. And when they don’t, we cry foul and take them to task before the world.
Now the American people are faced with an unfolding drama of tragic dimension and consequences.
Photographs, videotape and witnesses substantiate allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners held in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere by our military personnel, by our intelligence agencies and by civilian contractors performing military and intelligence functions. Official government documents have surfaced that appear to have contributed to a climate in which the pressure to obtain information overcame the restraint of the law, in which detention became license to abuse for the sake of amusement, in which hooded prisoners became a symbol to the world of American abandonment of the law.
The ABA stood up for the law when it condemned those who committed abuse and those government lawyers or officials who authorized torture. We urged prosecution of those who engaged in it, condoned it or had command responsibility for it. We urged the U.S. government to live up to our Constitution and treaty obligations by doing everything possible to prevent torture in our name, to assure Red Cross access to prisoners under our control, and to report to the United Nations on our treatment of those prisoners. We called on our leaders to assure that our government does not turn prisoners in its control over to other governments that we have reason to expect will commit torture. We urged Congress to amend our criminal code to encompass torture wherever it is committed and to clarify that torture cannot be justified by saying it is intended only to assist interrogation. And we called for an independent, bipartisan investigation into exactly what happened and why, so that we can be assured that it will not happen again.
These are not partisan issues. The sons and daughters of America’s liberty now stationed around the world include Republicans and Democrats and those who are neither. Those who love them, who depend on them at home and who pray for their safe return include partisans and non-partisans alike.
And those who would defeat terror but who cherish our national heritage are all Americans.
Unless we deal swiftly, surely and fairly with the allegations of torture inflicted by our own people, we will have no credibility to protest now or in future when others torture us.
As parents, family and friends of the men and women in uniform fighting to preserve our freedom, we owe it to them not to add to their risk by cheapening the world’s response to torture by failing to respond ourselves.