President Obama
(January 2009)

He didn’t have to do it, since it was the law of the land already. But President Obama’s executive order banning torture was necessary, appropriate, and courageous. When the history of the Bush Administration is written, its deceitful, slippery, cynical and self-righteous approval of torture as an interrogation device will be its most shameful legacy, the critical point where the U.S. abandoned its ideals and values, descending to the level of its worst enemies to combat them.

Even now, many Americans just do not comprehend how heinous torture is and why the banning of it must be absolute. Here is Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen in an op-ed for the Washington Post:

“It was easy for Obama the candidate to criticize the CIA program. But as president, what will he do when the next senior al-Qaeda leader — with actionable intelligence on plots to strike our homeland — is captured and refuses to talk? Will the president allow the CIA to question this terrorist using enhanced interrogation techniques? If Obama refuses and our country is attacked, he will bear responsibility.”

No, the responsibility will be that of the United States of America, its people, culture, and the ideas and principles that created it and that have been the foundation of its success. If a terrorist leader won’t talk, then the United States will have to find solutions and methods that do not violate the law, human rights, and the Declaration of Independence. It is as simple as that. That is what an “absolute” is. And, Mr. Thiessen, if one has to use a euphemism like “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe conduct, it can only be because one is afraid and ashamed to be clear. You are talking about torture. And just as the United States cannot use germ warfare, assassinate heads of state during peacetime, or allow its troops to rape women and murder children, torture is not an option. It never should have been an option.

Obama’s own Secretary of Defense doesn’t understand this, apparently, standing as an Ethics Dunce in contrast with his boss. (Does every Ethics Hero have an equal and opposite Ethics Dunce? A good topic for research!) Upon the issuing of the executive order, Robert Gates said that “the need to go beyond the manual” [yet another euphemism for torture!] is "dramatically less than it was several years ago."

Wrong, wrong, so wrong! There is never a “need” for conduct that violates a culture’s core values. President Obama expressed this perfectly by saying, as he prepared to sign the order, that regarding torture as off-limits for a country dedicated to the human spirit is “an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy but also when it's hard."


Thank you, Mr. President.

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