Greetings Web Community,
I drafted the following letter with the intent of sending it to my representative in the US House of Reps. Before executing my plan, I wish to gather comments from this online community.
Our country’s current foreign, budget and resource policies compel me to take up the pen. This is the first in a series of letters intended to present these issues in a potentially different context and to suggest alternate approaches to confronting them. This letter deals specifically with our nation’s policies concerning prisoners taken during the war on terror.
Prisoner abuse, such as the incidents at Abu Garade, drew condemnations from the highest levels of government and the military. Yet, reports of abuse at the hands of our troops continue to surface. According to President Bush, the United States does not torture prisoners. Yet, the administration refuses to support Senator McCain’s efforts to make such practices illegal. The administration declared a “war on terror.” Yet, prisoners taken during this war are not identified as prisoners of war; instead, they are labeled detainees, enemy combatants and other such ambiguous designations – excluding them from the protections given by the Geneva Conventions. Such statements and actions smack of hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that tarnishes our nation’s image. Moreover, the actions which contradict our words imperil our brave service men and woman deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. When the United States abuses and tortures, others are emboldened to do the same. Worse yet, as these occurrences become commonplace, the global community grows less sensitive, reducing the global outcry against terrorists and their deeds.
Unfortunately, the matter of abuse and torture fundamentally connects with the current administration’s efforts to stop terrorism. The president responded to September 11 by declaring a war on terror, but he never defined the enemy or desired end conditions. (Few, if any, politicians considered the logic of using terror to defeat terror.) In democracies, wars tend to be limited periods when the rules of normal conduct are bent to serve martial purposes. The current administration effectively committed our nation to an indefinite period in which the military and intelligence agencies can bend the rules. This policy placed our nation on a moral slippery slope with consequences beginning with evasion of the Geneva Conventions, proceeding to prison abuse and, now, reaching an implicit endorsement of torture. Should this continue, I am afraid that our nation will not stop there.
As a Representative in the United States Congress, you have the responsibility to take a stand against this moral ambiguity and the slippery slope policy underpinning it. The following steps will help set the nation on a path to the moral high ground where a great democracy such as the United States belongs.
– Support the House’s version of Sen. McCain’s anti-torture bill.
– Call for a public inquiry into the CIA’s alleged “black site” prisons in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. If you know this allegation to be true, lobby the administration to end this practice.
– Work to close detention facilities such as the one at Guantanomo Bay. These facilities are breeding grounds for abuse.
– Prepare legislation that reclassifies detainees in our custody as either criminals or prisoners of war. This act would clear the way for the ethical passage of detainees into criminal court systems (ours or their countries of origin) or prisoner of war camps satisfying the requirements in the Geneva Conventions.
– Change the slippery slope mindset by first changing the language. The nation is not conducting a “war against terrorism.” The nation is leading a campaign that seeks to end the threat of terrorism using social, economic and, where necessary, military means.
– Encourage your fellow representatives to take similar steps.