But a Republican panel member, Senator Jim Talent of Missouri, signaled that, as far as he is concerned, little if any blame rests on American shoulders. "If our guys want to poke somebody in the chest to get the name of a bomb maker so they can save the lives of Americans, I'm for it," Mr. Talent said. "If the Department of Defense wants to investigate me for that, and have 15 investigations and call me inhumane, fine."The Senator from Missouri seems not to understand the nature and purpose not only of the Geneva Conventions on torture, but also the necessity of investigating violations of the conventions.
As many in the military have already said, the conventions work both ways. Not only does it enforce humane treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, but it also helps protect any U.S. soldiers who happen to become prisoners of war. Now, just because an enemy such as Saddam may not follow such rules (the tapes of American POW's in the first Gulf War show clear evidence of abuse, as do those who fall into the grasp of the guerilla fighters currently in Iraq) that does not give the U.S.the right to also abandon any such standards of decency. It should be pretty obvious that arguing the contrary may lead to equating the moral standing of the Iraqi terrorists and the U.S. military, obviously a bad position, as well as an incorrect position, to hold.
The law branch of the military, the Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps, has loudly criticized not only the use of such practices, but also denouced the administration's efforts to loosen the regulations regarding the use of torture for interrogation. The most famous of these were findings written by Alberto Gozales when he served as Counsel for President George W. Bush. Gozalez now serves as the Attorney General of the United States.
In addition, the purpose of vigorously investigating and prosecuting violations of the convention has a great deal to do with the public perception of the United States. Despite attempts by some to ignore the moral position of the U.S. in the world, the U.S. must maintain strict standards on itself if it expects other nations to follow suit. The President can not determine that the use of torture is allowable and then denounce other nations for their use of similar techniques. Much of the argument against this criticism is that we do not use the same methods as those we condemn. This is of course the quintessential slippery slope. Once you start down the road, you have to admit you are using torture, you can't hide behind terminology.
The prosecution has to be vigorous because as a nation of laws, not of men, the U.S. must constantly demonstrate that no one is above the rule of the law. This is perhaps best codified in the right to impeach a sitting President.
If we are to hold ourselves up, rightly I believe, as a model for other nations we have to stick to the highest ethical, moral and legal standards. Holding ourselves above the rules for short-term political convenience will have disastrous long-term consequences.
Perhaps Sen. Talent and the President's staff will reconsider their position on the rule of law before our own citizens or soldiers have to face the consequences.