What country is this?
By By Roger Hernandez
A federal judge has ruled that a Guantanamo detainee may not be sent to his home country because he might be tortured there.
That country was Tunisia, one of those pariah states that torture the innocent and the not-so-innocent with equal-opportunity lawlessness. Nations like North Korea, Cuba, Iran, the United States.
Not so long ago, it was inconceivable that one day the United States would be on that list. America used to be the country to which torture victims turned in their grief and their pain, the light that made hope live in the darkest days of physical and emotional suffering. Back then, American officials denounced governments that tortured people.
Now, Newsweek reports, European military commanders in Afghanistan have been releasing prisoners "rather than subject them to U.S. interrogators."
From refuge for the tortured to home of the torturers.
It is the Bush administration that has betrayed cherished principles upon which the United States was built, principles that for almost 250 years have inspired democratic movements across the globe.
There was the infamous 2002 memo from Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, that said the Geneva Convention provisions had become "quaint" after 9/11. There was the equally un-American Justice Department memo saying that for torture to qualify as torture under U.S. law, it needed to be "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death."
Nothing short of that – like, say, kicking somebody in the gut but stopping just before rupturing the spleen — constituted torture.
It was too much for the Supreme Court, which last year ruled that the Geneva Conventions applied even to al-Qaida prisoners; and it was too much for Congress, which also last year passed a bill outlawing torture, sponsored by Sen. John McCain — himself a victim of torture in Vietnam.
That legislation was signed by President Bush. But as a blood-chilling story in The New York Times made clear, his administration tried to get around the prohibitions by redefining torture, not as what it is, but as what it isn't. Waterboarding? Headslaps? Sleep deprivation? Nope, not torture, we say. When we do it, it's not torture.
Americans ought be sickened that the president of the United States has descended to semantical sophistry to rationalize a policy that permits interrogation methods every Western nation outlaws as torture.
This abdication of the moral high ground cannot even be justified by practicality. Plenty of expert interrogators say torture can result in false confessions, because victims will make up anything to get the pain to stop.
Congress and the Supreme Court have done some things to stop the torture. But we the people do not seem to be outraged, so Cheney Inc. keeps trying to circumvent the system.
Complaints from the left can be dismissed as the whimpering of doves who don't realize national survival is at stake. What's needed is for more principled conservatives to force the administration to stop destroying this nation's honor, traditions and reputation.
Roger Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.