How long will it take President Bush to realize that his immoral assault on the dignity of the individual must be given up? The House of Representatives voted December 14 by an overwhelming margin of 308 to 122 to endorse Senator John McCain's legislation forbidding all forms of torture by any agency of the US Government. 107 Republicans endorsed the measure, which was sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha. The Senate had previously voted 90-9 in favor of adding the torture prohibition to the $453 billion defense appropriation bill.
Mr. Bush quietly responded the following day by reversing his previous threat to veto the defense bill if this amendment was included. But he offered no admission that he was wrong. Indeed, news also emerged the same week that the Administration had launched a secret re-writing of the Army Field Manual, with specific indications for allowed procedures. Some insiders described it as a preemptive end-run around the McCain/Murtha amendment, essentially allowing torture by redefining it with the lowest possible bar.
Why has the Administration clung to a universally condemned position like this on the issue of torture? Perhaps it's because their whole case for war in Iraq has been slipping away as more and more information comes to light about the ineptitude of their "tough guy" approach to foreign policy. At the heart of the justification was the oft-repeated link between Iraq and the 9-11 hijackers, which turned out to hinge almostly entirely on the torture-elicited testimony of Al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He was captured in Pakistan in 2001, subjected to rendition by US authorities, and approvingly tortured by the Egyptian security services. Vice President Cheney and President Bush repeatedly cited the false information elicited in that torture chamber as justification for attacking Iraq.
Thus the Administration's torture policy had the perverse effect of not only failing to make Americans safer, but of causing what Mr. Bush has now acknowledged were the deaths of at least 30,000 Iraqis and more than 2100 American service personnel.
Meanwhile, the US Government continues to hold large numbers of people hostage in a string of gulag-like interrogation facilities around the world with no accountability to anyone. December 9 the State Department announced that it would continue to deny any Red Cross access to these people to assess their physical wellbeing or any history of torture. This position is in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, to which the United States was a founding signatory.
The December 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine is headlined with an essay by Dr. Susan Okie offering her reflections on a medical mission to the Guantanamo Prison Camp in Cuba. She goes into some detail about the circumstances surrounding the hunger strike by 131 of the 500 prisoners earlier this fall, and forced feeding of 22 of them through naso-gastric tubes. Anyone who considers themselves a follower of Christ and a supporter of this Administration should read this essay and reflect on the central message of our faith this Christmas.
The Bush Administration's treatment of human beings in Guantanamo and in their secret prisons around the world is inimical to everything we believe as Christians and must be brought to an immediate end. The overwhelming approval of Senator McCain's legislation in the House and Senate shows that Mr. Bush and his advisors were the last holdouts supporting this assault on this most fundamental of human sensibilities. Their reversal on the veto threat will not be credible until they come out and admit that they previously sanctioned torture, and have had a true change of heart.