Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, September 14, 2009 8:15 pm

Taking off the gloves


Torture is a bad idea, but don’t just take my word for it. Two former senior Marines — one a commandant, the other a head of Central Command, the military’s designation for the part of the world that includes the Middle East — come down hard on torture in general and Dick Cheney’s defense of it in particular:

In the fear that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Americans were told that defeating Al Qaeda would require us to “take off the gloves.” As a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a retired commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command, we knew that was a recipe for disaster.

But we never imagined that we would feel duty-bound to publicly denounce a vice president of the United States, a man who has served our country for many years. In light of the irresponsible statements recently made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, however, we feel we must repudiate his dangerous ideas — and his scare tactics. …

The Bush administration had already degraded the rules of war by authorizing techniques that violated the Geneva Conventions and shocked the conscience of the world. Now Cheney has publicly condoned the abuse that went beyond even those weakened standards, leading us down a slippery slope of lawlessness. Rules about the humane treatment of prisoners exist precisely to deter those in the field from taking matters into their own hands. They protect our nation’s honor.

To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed.

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