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The Slippery Slope of Torture

For me, the last paragraph of Seymour Hersh's article on high-level involvement in Iraqi prisoner abuse for the New Yorker really sums up the situation:

"In an odd way," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is authorized." Since September 11th, Roth added, the military has systematically used third-degree techniques around the world on detainees. "Some JAGs [Judge Advocates General] hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next war," Roth told me. "We're giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar."
People in favor of using torture will use exaggerated examples to make their point. For example, if we could go back in time, wouldn't we tell the CIA to torture Osama bin Laden in order to prevent 9/11? Most people probably would. (Actually, we'd simply tell the CIA to arrest those 19 hijackers, but now I'm picking nits.) But as with so many things in life, it's a slippery slope. As Newsweek wrote:
What started as a carefully thought-out, if aggressive, policy of interrogation in a covert war -- designed mainly for use by a handful of CIA professionals -- evolved into ever-more ungoverned tactics that ended up in the hands of untrained MPs in a big, hot war. Originally, Geneva Conventions protections were stripped only from Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. But later Rumsfeld himself, impressed by the success of techniques used against Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, seemingly set in motion a process that led to their use in Iraq, even though that war was supposed to have been governed by the Geneva Conventions. Ultimately, reservist MPs, like those at Abu Ghraib, were drawn into a system in which fear and humiliation were used to break prisoners' resistance to interrogation.
Once you've decided to torture one person, you've crossed a moral line. You're going to torture again when it seems necessary. If you'll torture 10 suspected Al Qaida ringleaders, you'll torture 100 suspected Al Qaida terrorists. And if you'll torture 100 of them, you'll torture 1,000 or 10,000 Iraqi prisoners. It becomes nothing more than another tool. A slippery slope.

Back to Hersh's article, as a former soldier, I'm incredibly angered at what the Bush Administration has done to the reputation of the US military. Now we're seen by many around the world as torturers, as cold-blooded killers. The reason countries sign up to the Geneva Conventions isn't altruism, it's selfishness. It's a desire to protect their own. "We won't torture you if you don't torture us." Now the Bush Administration has changed that. "We may torture you. But don't you dare torture us." But that's exactly what's going to happen. In future conflicts, from the standpoint of our enemies, the gloves will be off. If you believe the US will torture your soldiers, then you're going to be very motivated to torture any US soldiers you happen to capture. And that has made the world a far more dangerous place for US soldiers for a long, long time to come.


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