America is finally getting out of the business of questioning terrorists by any means necessary. However, the repercussions of what we have been doing for almost eight years is probably going to ring in our ears for years to come.
We took it upon ourselves to come up with justifications to create an illusion of safety through brute force but in the end all we were doing was adopting many of the principles used by those we hope to defeat. It has not been our finest hour.
A few particulars stand out such as water-boarding, which is nearly drowning a human being over and over again in the hopes they will choose to save their own life rather than let us slowly choke it out of them. We said it wasn’t really torture because in the end they were still alive. The web site Dictionary.com defines torture as severe mental or physical pain and none of the people who signed off on the method are stupid people.
We crossed the line and it’s about time we started owning up to it. This may be who the terrorists are, but it is definitely not the kind of people that make up America. It’s not enough to say our enemy is willing to do the same to us because we recognize that terrorism is fear-based. The violence is meant to create anarchy and a society without decency toward its fellow citizens.
That is not who we are and it is not how we are going to conduct ourselves. Torturing the enemy doesn’t weaken their resolve but instead has mistakenly given them a rallying cry against us.
It is a difficult quest to maintain a set of ideals across a vast country that has been built by responding with justice rather than revenge. Justice can be a much longer trial and often lacks the heated passion of cutting down our foes, but it has within it the lasting quality of mercy. And it leaves room for the possibility of forgiveness and even friendship and beyond that, greatness.
Japan and Germany were once thought to be our sworn enemy and not too long ago. Today they are some of our strongest allies and in large part it’s because of the measured way America behaved just after World War II ended.
It also was not clever of us when lawyers within the past administration coyly stated that prisoners at Gitmo, the base’s nickname, were not privy to speedy trials because the place, which sits on Cuban soil, was outside of America’s jurisdiction.
First of all, American ideals travel rather well, which ironically is why we went into Iraq after all. Second of all, the Nuremberg trials were logistically even further away and for crimes that many would argue were even more horrific and yet those in charge managed to listen to their better angels and do the right thing. Former members of the Nazi party who tortured and killed other human beings were tried and punished but without humiliation, deprivation or torture.
Imagine for just a moment if President Lincoln had decided to torture soldiers in the Confederate Army for details of their plans because after all he was trying to save a country from dividing itself in half. Rather, Lincoln chose to stand up to the declaration of war but not to the point of losing our humanity, which is also defined as compassion.
Just because we are dealing with forces that do not value us or our ideals doesn’t mean we drop them when they become inconvenient or even painful. Instead, we keep on believing that we can be of better service to those principles by being a constant living example of them. Then, we have left the door open for our enemy to become our brother. That is how the democratic ideals, created anew by every generation of Americans, travel best and last beyond our lifetimes.
Martha Randolph Carr is a nationally syndicated columnist, speaker and book author. You can reach her at : Martha@martharandolphcarr.com.