How Republicans Changed Me from Independent to Democrat Part Two: Torture

How Republicans Changed Me from Independent to Democrat Part Two: Torture

Shawn Harmsen


(Once upon a time, I was quite proud to tell people I was a political “Independent”, and that because of my profession as a journalist I could take no public position on most issues, and certainly not on a political preference.  For a long time this felt like I was being “fair,” and that felt good.  This was nicely compatible with the way I had been trained to think and act as a journalist.  But one part of being a journalist is being an observer.  And for nearly two decades now I have been observing.  From politics to science to agriculture to human rights campaigns, I got to follow events, ask questions, and meet thousands of people and hear their stories.  This is part of a series of blog posts which will explore how the sum total of these experiences have led to this conclusion: I can no longer in good conscience fail to speak against the politics, policies, and quite often the leaders of the GOP.)  

We are Americans.  We do not torture.  Waterboarding is torture.  (Positions I share with, somewhat ironically, the last Republican to run for president.)  Personally, I don’t think this discussion needs any more justification than torture is really, really wrong.

However, I recognize that some people won’t be satisfied with that.  So, if you feel further pragmatic perspectives are necessary in order to reject torture as an option for anyone representing the United States of America, I will give you three.

1.) Members of the military (including the aforementioned John McCain, who suffered torture as a P.O.W. in Vietnam) say that deviating from Geneva conventions on issues like torture put our soldiers at risk.  Following the rules does NOT mean everyone else will.  It does NOT guarantee the safety of our soldiers who are captured.  But by breaking the conventions, it creates an atmosphere of permissiveness and muddies the waters when US soldiers are captured and tortured.

2.)  There have been numerous stories about interrogation experts from agencies like the FBI who say that the information you get from tortured prisoners is horribly unreliable and far, far inferior to what they can get through other, non-torture, interrogation means.  It results in false confessions, and in prisoners who will say anything to make the torture stop.  See also: the Inquisition.

3.)  By torturing prisoners, the United States did a HUGE favor to those who are recruiting new waves of extremists and terrorists.  Think about it, when you hear about someone torturing an American abroad, does that make you feel like giving in, or getting revenge?  Intelligence estimates (even from the time when Bush was still in office) told a story of an upsurge in recruitment by anti-American terrorist groups in the wake of the Iraq War, with a special boost from things like waterboarding and abuses at prisons like Abu Ghraib.

In light of these four issues, (that it’s just plain wrong, it puts US soldiers at risk, it doesn’t work, and it helps our enemies recruit followers), you would think we could all agree that it’s a bad idea.

But it was a Republican administration that re-instituted torture of prisoners, a Republican Department of Justice which tried to give torture a kind of fig leaf, and a Republican push to get everyone to call torture “enhance interrogation techniques.”  This last part, was a travesty to the truth, and one adopted for a long time by the paper that conservatives like to bash: The New York Times.  (As if adopting a euphemism for torture is somehow a sign of “neutrality.”)

By contrast, almost immediately when Obama took office, he signed an order saying all interrogation would have to follow guidelines in the Army Field Manual, which meant no more waterboarding or other forms of torture that were allowed under Bush.  Now, to be fair, even before Obama took office the Bush administration was reported to have stopped the waterboarding torture, and had slowed the use of the CIA secret prisons.  So, even by the end of his (disastrous) time in office, Bush had backed away from some of these torture techniques.

Now in the Republican campaign of 2012, we have a majority of candidates who support the use of torture again.  The candidates (Paul, Huntsman) who reject torture didn’t get much traction.  But those who either support forms of torture like waterboarding outright, or try and play word games with definitions, get cheered during debates and are doing much better with the GOP base.

If a Democrat were to try to run for President with the same kinds of pro-torture, pro-waterboarding stance clearly expressed by the front-running Republicans they would get booed off the stage.  On the torture issue, it is clear to me that, (while not perfect), Democrats enjoy a clearly superior ethical and moral stance.

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One comment on “How Republicans Changed Me from Independent to Democrat Part Two: Torture

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