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April 25, 2009

Torture is un-American as it gets


Some torturous questions for an April weekend:

Didn't then-President George W. Bush say in a news conference on Nov. 7, 2005, "We do not torture"?

Then why did we torture suspected terrorists _ some guilty and others innocent _ dozens and even hundreds of times?

When did we Americans stop being "the good guys?"

When exactly did our image go from freckle-faced GIs passing out chocolates to adoring children in liberated lands to being members of the Torquemada Fan Club?

Instead of former Vice President Dick Cheney recently appearing on Fox News and essentially saying that torture is OK as long as it results in worthwhile information, shouldn't he be looking for a good defense lawyer right about now?

If you're going to torture somebody, don't you need to wear a monocle?

And carry a swagger stick?

And with a thick German accent, say this to a manacled victim: "Vee haff vays uff making you talk"?

If waterboarding isn't torture, then why does Sen. John McCain, who knows a thing or two about torture after enduring it as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, say it most certainly is torture?

Is there any better word than torture to describe a technique that tilts a person's head back, stuffs a cloth over his mouth and nose and pours water over his face until he's gagging and sure he's drowning?

And if that isn't torture, then why did CIA officers who subjected themselves to the technique last only an average of 14 seconds before giving up?

Doesn't it make sense that anyone undergoing that sort of torment would make up anything just so it would stop?

If waterboarding is the American way, would Superman still want to fight "a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way?"

If waterboarding isn't torture, why was it so popular during the Spanish Inquisition?

And with the Nazis' Gestapo?

Doesn't it make sense that if we waterboard folks, when our troops get captured somewhere, we can't complain if they are waterboarded?

What do you think Americans thought when it was revealed that Chase J. Nielsen, one of the U.S. airmen who flew in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo, was subjected to waterboarding by the Japanese?

Does this sound like fun?

"Well," Nielsen said at a war-crimes trial, "I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb.

"The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again ... I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death."

Why did Bush sign an executive order on July 20, 2007, that forbid torture during interrogations of terror suspects only to veto a waterboard-banning bill less than eight months later?

Why didn't Congress have the guts and decency to override that veto?

Wasn't it embarrassing that Canada _ yes, that Canada, our best friend _ in a training manual for diplomats in January 2008 included the United States among such despotic countries as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan and China as a place where foreigners risk torture and abuse?

After we had to endure partisan hacks such as attorneys general John Ashcroft Alberto Gonzales during the Bush years, isn't it nice that President Barack Obama will allow an independent attorney general, Eric Holder, to decide whether to prosecute Bush-era officials who approved torture?

Isn't Obama wrong not to advocate prosecuting the CIA people who actually did the torturing?

Since when is "I was just following orders" any kind of valid excuse?

Did you know that in September 2006, a first-term senator spoke in the aftermath of a vote that approved U.S. torture of detainees and stripped them of any constitutional rights?

Did you know that the young senator blasted the policy and said, "This is not how a serious administration would approach the problem of terrorism."

Aren't you glad that senator with so much good sense and wisdom is now the president of the United States, a nation that will no longer torture anybody?

Aren't you glad that we're the good guys again?

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Sam Pollak is editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.