There is an idiom popularized about a century-and-a-half ago that says “all’s fair in love and war.” The phrase was a loose iteration taken from Miguel de Cervantes’ comparison in 1604 in Don Quixote where he wrote; “Love and war are all one…it is lawful to use sleights and stratagems to attain the wished end.” However, in war, like in love, there are some ‘stratagems and sleights‘ that are not lawful under any circumstances. For example, in matters of love, rape and violence are certainly not lawful any more than torturing prisoners duringwar is lawful in any conflict. There have been several international conventions and treaties in effect for decades, all of which America ratified and is a signatory to, that ban the use of torture. But this country, in particular, continued the banned practice as if it was a legal requirement to conduct a war when a Republican is president.
During the George W. Bush administration torture was not only condoned, it was encouraged by the administration and “deemed legal” because under a Republican administration America was so extraordinarily exceptional that Bush’s neo-con cabal concluded that no matter what international laws they violated, they were not going to be bound to follow any treaty, convention, or American military code. What was exceptional then, and continues to confound sane Americans, is that despite admitting, boasting about, and pledging to continue torturing prisoners right up to present day, Bush officials and those who tortured prisoners are still free and will never face prosecution for war crimes.
The American military has had bans against the use of torture under any circumstances since the nation’s inception, and still, on taking office in 2009, then new President Obama felt the need to issue an executive order on interrogation banning the use of torture. Now, six years later, the United States Senate felt the pressing need to overwhelmingly pass legislation banning the use of torture and it is a sign that even some Republicans are aware of a mindset among several Republicans running for the presidency that adhering to the idea that “all’s fair in war” allows torture and the only way to prevent a future, dog-forbid, Republican administration from not only condoning, but ordering the use of torture with immunity from prosecution, is passing another law banning the practice.
The vote in the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday was an overwhelming bipartisan statement that the President’s 2009 executive order banning torture must be ensconced in permanent law to prevent a Republican administration’s repeat performance in the future. The vote was 78 – 21 in the form of an amendment added to the fiscal 2016 National Defense Reauthorization Act and it forbid the use of torture by “any agent of the U.S. government,” as well as “standardized certain ‘non-coercive interrogation methods across the military and intelligence sector.” Leading the charge to again “officially” ban the use of torture was Viet Nam Veteran and torture survivor Republican John McCain and Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein. The “no torture” amendment was a continuation project for Senator Feinstein who was a fierce crusader for the release of an exposé on the dysfunctional and abusive torture practices by the CIA that were approved and encouraged by the Bush administration.
In reality, it is as absurd that the United States Congress has to pass a law banning torture as it was ridiculous and embarrassing for America that an incoming Democratic President had to issue an executive order banning the practice George Washington said “brought shame, disgrace and ruin” to American soldiers and their country. Disgraceful and illegal as it is, torturing prisoners was a practice the Bush administration boasted about. Following closely the President’s 2009 executive order, the new legislation restricts all U.S. personnel to using only approved interrogation techniques found in the Army Field Manual.
According to constitutional law professor David Cole, the new Senate legislation appears to be a safeguard specifically designed to prevent any future Republican warmongering administration from deliberately re-interpreting existing laws to “permit what they were plainly designed to prohibit.” It was precisely the ploy that George W. Bush used when he ordered his Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to;create torture ‘memos’ legalizing decades-old “banned interrogation techniques” that any thinking human being considers torture. Professor Cole explained that the new legislation banning torture wisely approaches the issue differently than previous bans and noted that, “Instead of expressing a broad prohibition, it confines interrogators to a set list of expressly approved techniques. That approach, already used by the military for their interrogations, avoids ambiguity; if a technique is not affirmatively approved, it is banned.”
However, those techniques that are not, and were never ever, “approved” by America’s military were routinely put into practice on the advice and consent of the Bush administration; likely because they thought they were above American and international law. The fact that they were not placed under arrest, prosecuted, and summarily executed by firing squad, and are free to continue boasting about their war crimes means that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al were and are above the law.
The Bush administration’s many war crimes, including approving the use of torture on captive combatants and innocent Muslims alike was, and still is, a major cause of shame, disgrace, and ruination for America’s reputation abroad although many Americans still think it is a mark of heroic exceptionalism. Despite his executive order banning the use of torture, it really appeared that the current administration wanted to pretend it never happened by “looking forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Perhaps if the Senate’s anti-torture amendment ever reaches the President’s desk it will jog his memory and remind him that his failure to prosecute the Bush administration war criminals is tantamount to, at the very least, tacit approval of the banned practices.
The idea of torturing prisoners was so abhorrent to one of America’s most revered Founders, and the one man regarded as the Father of our country, George Washington, that he issued orders to his commanders warning of the harshest consequences to any American soldier found causing harm to a prisoner of war. In a charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Washington said “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any prisoner, I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause. For by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.” On Monday, the United States Senate took a giant bipartisan step toward making certain that no American will ever again bring shame, disgrace, and ruin to this country again; at least until, dog forbid, Americans elect another Republican as president.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.