My Turn: Outsourcing torture a stain on the national character

Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Recent news reports have shed light on a practice which should be of concern to all Americans. Euphemistically called "rendition," it involves the extra legal kidnapping of "suspected" terrorists by officers of the U.S. government and shipping them to foreign countries to be tortured. This practice apparently began in 1995 and has spun out of control since 9/11 according to an article by Jane Mayer in the Feb. 8 New Yorker magazine, which describes what is happening in disturbing detail.

Apparently, the war on terror has become a pretext for kidnapping people without charging them of any crime, and shipping them via CIA jet to the torture chambers of Egypt, Syria and Uzbekistan. There, prisoners have been subjected to beatings, sexual humiliation, hanging by the limbs for long periods, whipping with cables, electric shock to the genitals, death threats, and other forms of physical and psychological torture.

Not surprisingly, many of these prisoners have confessed to terrorist connections or activities. In some instances, these confessions have later proven false, as in the case of three British nationals released from the Guantanamo Bay recently after the British government established their innocence. The New Yorker piece quotes extensively from FBI and CIA interrogators who strongly object to torture, not only because it is wrong, but also because it does not yield useful information, since people being tortured will say anything to get their tormentors to stop.

The outsourcing of torture, like the continuing detention without charges of hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the appalling abuses at Abu Graib, is a stain on our national character. Ostensibly, as Americans we strive to hold ourselves to the highest standards of legality, morality and human decency. We stand for the rule of law, not the law of the jungle.

The "official" position of our government is that we do not torture people and we do not ship them to other countries to be tortured. This position was re-iterated by President Bush in a Jan. 28 interview with the New York Times. Unfortunately, our words do not match our actions.

The revelations on the policy of "rendition" present an opportunity, an opportunity to begin to practice what we preach. Both morally and practically, outsourcing torture is a bankrupt policy, a policy which speaks more of desperation than of confidence in the values we profess to uphold. The time has come for our government to cease in aiding and abetting torture. Until we do, our high-flown rhetoric about freedom, human rights, and the rule of law will ring painfully hollow.

• David Ottoson is a Juneau resident and business owner with an interest in public affairs.

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