When We Stop Being Honest, We Stop Being American

21 Apr


There is something happening in America today and it’s troubling, even for a cynical bastard like me.  We’re not willing to even be truthful anymore.  Once upon a time in this nation, there was an objective truth and then there was partisan interpretations of that truth doled out in the battle lines of politics.  Now?  Objective truth is hard to find as the partisan rhetoric and point scoring has clouded what is true and what is false.


On the issue of torture, I find the right wing pundits and politicians to be willfully ignorant and deliberately dishonest about the tactics used, the legalities and whether any crimes were committed.  This is not a political game, this is our national moral compass…a moment for us to measure whether we are the country we say we are.  Instead, torture is just another partisan talking point.

Aside from listening to torture defenders on talk radio and reading blog entries scoffing at those of us interested in the rule of law, this video pretty much sent me over the edge.


Waterboarding is a method of torture.  There is no debate on this issue.  None.

Aside from the Khmer Rouge and various despotic regimes through the course of human history, no legal authority has declared it to be a moral and humane way to treat prisoners.

You know what else is torture?  Extended periods of sleep and sensory deprivation, beatings, sexual humiliation and stress positions used for extended periods of time.  To treat these methods as fodder for morning show jokes is insulting to the human condition and is a marker on this country’s pursuit to join the barbaric while seemingly celebrating the journey in a fit of cognitive dissonance.

Many of you who read this site know that I am a proud veteran of the US Military.  I’m a patriot who loves the ideals upon which this country was founded and I take immense pride that I had the privilege to serve under those who held those ideals as a sacred trust.

Our nation has always been an honorable one.  Leading the nations of the world when it comes to the dignified treatment of combatants, detainees, and prisoners of war.  It has now become crystal clear to this veteran that we are no longer a nation of honor.  We are now a nation that is willing to ignore the international agreements and treaties our forebearers signed.  A nation that is willing to sell out the very values I once swore a duty to protect.

I went through SERE Training and was trained as an intelligence analyst.  During my training these “enhanced interrogation methods” were described to us as torture.  Things that would be done to us in the event of capture by a ruthless and evil enemy.  These were not tactics that would be employed by members of the United States military or affiliated intelligence agencies who worked alongside of us.  Our interrogation methods were non-negotiable and were laid out clearly in the US Army Field Manual on Interrogation (FM 34-52).  If we engaged in torture, we would be prosecuted and held accountable for our actions.

FM 34-52 standardizes interrogation techniques upon those approved by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, particularly, the third convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

In times war, we as Americans hold the moral high ground, such as it is in war.  Lowering ourselves to the level of our enemy breeds contempt, inflames opposition, and reduces our ability to rally the world around a flag of righteousness. Torturing those whom we have detained lowers us to the level of the enemy.  Once we cede the moral high ground in battle, we begin down a slippery slope of moral ambiguity that clouds our purpose and allows our enemy to define our standards for us.

We no longer hold that moral high ground and our unwillingness to confront the actions of the previous administration is an affront to those who have honorably served this great nation.  It is a betrayal of this country’s citizens who entrusted us to fight in their name and serve with integrity.

Think of how we would react if it was discovered that an American soldier was waterboarded 183 times in one month.  Would we snicker and make snarky comments about that treatment?

These memos are not a dark chapter of our history which we can simply choose to close as a matter of political convenience, they are a festering wound on the soul of a nation.  We need to stop with the jokes and the offhanded remarks about how these methods are necessary to win the war on terror, they aren’t.

We need to be honest about what has been done in our name, else we cease to be American.

3 Responses to “When We Stop Being Honest, We Stop Being American”

  1. Rich Mattingly April 21, 2009 at 6:32 am #

    You know what I hate? WordPress formats that when you screw up typing your email and then have to hit “back” lose the long, rambling diatribe you just posted on someone’s blog. Damnit.

    Chris – I didn’t know you were also a veteran like me and now I like you even more for obvious reasons. Folks, if you don’t know what SERE training is – even on the lower levels of it, it means the blogger here has a certificate that says he’s way more bad-ass than you and understands the working of torture a lot more than your average pundit who can only speculate on the human condition under adverse, wartime stress.

    Everything I was taught, EVERYTHING, taught us how torture didn’t work and any information we could ever hope to receive from said torturing was going to be completely suspect and unreliable.

    I was a sergeant in the Marines, and Allah himself wouldn’t have been able to save my narrow ass from a court martial if I had been caught being involved in mistreating PUCs or ECs or whatever we were calling captured fighters when I was over there in 04-05. Before I even saw trial, though, my entire chain of command would also have been relieved of duty and sent packing to the 1st CivDiv. I’m not surprised that we tortured behind closed doors as part of secret operations, but I cannot believe that no one will have to pay for it. And why, the pundits say? To save face?

    I love my country, and I want people to have to be responsible when we do something that goes against the moral code we claim to believe in.

  2. John Curr April 21, 2009 at 8:12 am #

    Mr. Smith:
    Quite simply-Thank you for this.
    I too am a veteran-14 years, now disabled because of my service in the Persian Gulf during the First Gulf War. I was intrigued that you suffered SERE (as I did once upon a time) and I spent an enormous amount of time with Intelligence Analysts as a young Radio Intelligence Operator-perhaps we ate some of the same sand-or worse, some of the same rations.

    The revelations of our conduct and treatment of prisoners that continue to be brought forward sicken me to the soul. I damn near burned a flag the day that I found out that a unit I had served proudly and honorably with in combat was a party to some of the worst abuses that took place in Iraq.

    We need to hear from more veterans voices on prosecutions. Not that veterans should have a preferred place in the conversations of a republic, but that somehow the voices of veterans still seem to hold sway with a public that cant seem to find empathy in its collective self–and that is truly sad and mystifying.

    We have much work to do but know this: Prosecutions and punishment are necessary-at all levels. Without accountability there is nothing that can stop any citizen, soldier or government agent from going down that dark road and committing these crimes again that erode, taint and fade the primary colors of the fabric of our nation and dim the beacon that was once the only candle in a night darkened by tyranny across the globe.

    Keep fighting the good fight and writing the truest words that you know.

    Best Regards,
    SGT, U.S. Army (Active) 1984–93
    SGT, Virginia Army National Guard, 1993–95
    SSG, U.S. Air Force Reserve, 1995–98

  3. Buffalo Mark April 21, 2009 at 10:57 am #

    Well put. I am so sick of hearing some say that the release of these memos will lead to the destruction of the US. What will lead our great nation down a road of destruction is when we don’t follow the principles that our nation was founded upon. The Obama administration knows this (not surprising since he was a constitutional law professor) and a restoration of our good name around the world will only begin when we admit the acts that were perpetrated and officially state that we will not do so again.

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