Monday, September 18, 2006

The torture debate may signal the death of the American Dream

By Diane Silver

I don't know about you, but I feel like it's getting increasingly difficult to figure out whether we still have the right to call ourselves Americans.

After all, Congress is currently tied up in a debate over torture. We have a president who believes that torture is the only way we can defeat terrorists. Oh, and President George W. Bush has a fondness for engaging in doublespeak tactics right out of Big Brother and the novel 1984 when he politely calls torture nothing more than an "alternative" interrogation method.

Even Colin Powell, Bush's former secretary of state, says Bush's rush to redefine Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions and thus legalize torture is a horrible idea. However, there is a real chance that Congress might go along with the president. Even if Congress doesn't, the mere idea that an American president would push torture is appalling.

Who are we becoming?

What kind of monster is the United States turning into?

What happens to the American Dream if Bush succeeds?

Is the American Dream merely the "dream" that everybody and anybody can make money and be materially secure?

Silly me. I always thought the American Dream was about far more than a fat paycheck. I thought the American Dream was about respect for the individual and human rights for all.

I'm not even going to talk about how there is a serious question about whether torture even works to produce accurate information. I'm not going to talk about how we've lost the moral high ground and hurt our effort to fight terrorism by engaging in torture.

I'm just going to ask: What kind of country do you want to live in?

I'm a Baby Boomer and came of age during the Vietnam War. I protested the war and always thought of myself as a pacifist. When my son was born, though, I realized that if anyone ever threatened to hurt him, I'd fight to the death to defend him.

Love and kisses isn't always the answer to an attack on our country, but then again, neither is turning ourselves into the enemy. If we lose what makes us, well, us, then Osama bin Laden has won.

Both The Washington Post and The New York Times published columns today that do a good job of discussing the issue.

The Washington Post published an op-ed column by Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, that outlines the real, human costs of these alternative interrogations.

The New York Times has a great column from Paul Krugman. I'm going to quote extensively from the column because it is behind the newspaper's, maddening paywall.
So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration -- more fundamental than any particular policy -- has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president's power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it's a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they're asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

And many of our politicians are willing to go along. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is poised to vote in favor of the administration's plan to, in effect, declare torture legal. Most Republican senators are equally willing to go along, although a few, to their credit, have stood with the Democrats in opposing the administration.

Mr. Bush would have us believe that the difference between him and those opposing him on this issue is that he's willing to do what's necessary to protect America, and they aren't. But the record says otherwise.

The fact is that for all his talk of being a "war president," Mr. Bush has been conspicuously unwilling to ask Americans to make sacrifices on behalf of the cause -- even when, in the days after 9/11, the nation longed to be called to a higher purpose. His admirers looked at him and thought they saw Winston Churchill. But instead of offering us blood, toil, tears and sweat, he told us to go shopping and promised tax cuts.

Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice.

And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

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