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Why We Need to Look at the Abu Ghraib Photos

Why look at the Abu Ghraib photos now? After all, this happen over two and half years ago. They prosecuted a few rogue soldiers, end of story. Printing them just reminds the world, makes them hate us, and endangers our soldiers. I have a son in the Army. He will be returning to Iraq in June of this year. I take very seriously anything that could put our troops in greater danger. As difficult as it is to look at the photos, it is important for us as American citizens to look at them. To see what the world is seeing. There is a lot of room between the Geneva Convention’s requirement to treat all prisoners humanely and the justice department’s 2002 memo that defined physical torture as the “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." For those actions that fall between the two, we must decide, as Americans, what is acceptable to us. In order to do this, we must know what torture looks like.

We cannot leave it to the courts. Mahar Arar, a Canadian citizen filed a suit claiming American Forces kidnapped and rendered him to Syria. There he was kept in an underground cell and beaten for weeks with a thick cable. U.S. federal judge, David Trager, dismissed Mahar Arar’s case, because the courts do not have jurisdiction to review matters of national defense. Enemy combatants have been denied access to our courts to appeal their status and treatment. When our courts do not have jurisdiction, we must look to Congress to remedy the matter. Congress has attempted to do their part by passing the McCain Ban on Torture. However, after signing the bill, President Bush issued a signing statement asserting he could waive the ban on torture and inhumane treatment when he deemed it necessary. Ultimately, which acts are acceptable and which ones are not, will be determined by what American citizens are willing to tolerate. In a democracy, we elect our government. That makes us responsible to the world, for the actions our government takes.

When a prisoner is bound and gagged and has water poured over him to make him think he is drowning, are you OK with that? Former Vietnam POW and torture victim, Sen. John McCain said water boarding was a very exquisite torture that should be outlawed. The technique dates back to the Italian Inquisition in the 1500’s. In 1901, during the Spanish-American war, an army major was sentenced to 10 years hard labor for water boarding a Philippine insurgent. A soldier who water boarded a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 was court martialed and drummed out of the Army. We as Americans must decided if water boarding is now acceptable and if so, when? Who will decide that water boarding a prisoner is necessary? What about electrocuting prisoners, hooding them, or depriving them of sleep? What about force-feeding and the use of restraint chairs? What sort of oversight will be in place to make certain the practice is not abused? Who will be held responsible if these practices are abused? Do we trust our president to unilaterally, without any oversight, decided these issues?

As you look at the photos, think about what is and is not acceptable treatment for prisoners. What standard of treatment will we apply to those we capture in this war on terror? How would we feel about other countries adopting these standards and using them on our soldiers when they are captured? What kind of treatment are we willing to have the world accept as “American”? It is our duty as a citizen to let our government know what we as American are willing to accept.

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