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Standing up for moral values in the war on terrorism

Many people around the world believe that the United States does not anymore live by Benjamin Franklin's famous principle "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." And it is indeed of concern that a federal appeals court panel ruled in September that the president has the authority to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen without charge as an enemy combatant, as the Washington Times reports. (The Supreme Court will probably have the final word.)

However, the US Senate, an army captain and a US District judge have recently made courageous decisions in support of Benjamin Franklin's principle regarding the interrogation of detainees and the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib pictures. MSNBC informs us that

The Republican-controlled Senate voted Wednesday to impose restrictions on the treatment of terrorism suspects, delivering a rare wartime rebuke to President Bush. Defying the White House, senators voted 90-9 to approve an amendment that would prohibit the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" against anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. (...) Bush administration officials say the legislation would limit the president's authority and flexibility in war. But lawmakers from each party have said Congress must provide U.S. troops with clear standards for detaining, interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects in light of allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "We demanded intelligence without ever clearly telling our troops what was permitted and what was forbidden. And when things went wrong, we blamed them and we punished them," said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Senator McCain (R-Ariz), who proposed the amendment, cited a letter he received from Army Capt. Ian Fishback. The Washington Post published his entire letter, which includes these quotes:

Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq. (...)
Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. (...) Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Similarly, US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein defended US ideals at the expense of US security by ordering the release of unpublished Abu Ghraib photos. The Boston Globe writes:

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had argued in court papers that releasing the photographs would aid al-Qaida recruitment, weaken the Afghan and Iraqi governments and incite riots against American troops. But the judge said: "My task is not to defer to our worst fears, but to interpret and apply the law, in this case, the Freedom of Information Act, which advances values important to our society, transparency and accountability in government." (...) An appeal of Hellerstein's ruling is expected, which could delay release of the pictures for months.


BORDBUCH :: Fresh Links on : Benjamin Franklin lives on

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It's about time to stand up for moral values in the US...

Atlantic Review on : "Vice President for torture", secret CIA prisons

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Folkard Wohlgemuth recommends the op-ed "Degrading our soldiers and ourselves" in the International Herald Tribune, which deals with Vice President Cheney’s attempt on allowing the CIA to treat (or should one rather say: "abuse"?


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David on :

Bush has inflicted immeasurable damage to America and its reputation in the world. I fear it will take at least a generation to restore - if it ever even can be restored.

Tcobb on :

This will make things simpler. Since the "abuse" of prisoners was instituted for the purposes of making them divulge information, and this is to stop, there is no reason to take prisoners at all. When dealing with an opponent use maximum lethality. If ever there was an example of the Law of Unintended Consequences this is it.

Gerd on :

It's a bit late, but I think there are too many other Americans who know that abusing human rights doesn't help "America's" image abroad; it's surely not setting positive examples. As often, peaceful work Americans are doing goes unnoticed in the global eye.

Martin on :

You forgot to mention that Bush threatened to use his veto. It would be his first veto. As if torture is the most important piece of his agenda.

It isn't even just about that... on :

Remember this set a dangerous precendent. Your freedom is fragile and this is one more step to take it away. Trust me when I say that if you work hard enough at it, you can call anyone an enemy combatant.

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