Editor: The failure of the acting CIA director to call torture immoral disqualifies her for a permanent appointment, regardless of her superior background. This is especially important, given that the current president has called for various torture techniques like water boarding, even worse. Given that the nominee won’t speak to the immorality of torture, we must assume she considers it moral, her only impediment being current law, and might engage in such activities if ordered by the president.
Particularly bothersome is that some have said that the use of torture was simply a symptom of the times, and therefore policy makers and practitioners should be forgiven for bending to public pressure to beat back al-Quida and other terrorist organizations, regardless of cost. That is the argument of the morally weak and the losing argument of war criminals who often said the techniques were ok because their courts gave approval. To be clear, I am not debating the value of a war on terrorism. I simply feel we must conduct ourselves honorably, and I say that out of deep respect for the CIA and its many men and women who daily risk their lives to protect us.
We have seen this kind of moral myopia in the past. After 9/11, we were told that because al-Qaida was a new, unprecedented threat the world had changed and we need to change with it, and use rough measures. But that claim overlooks the long history of terrorist and national security threats, which are as old as the republic. Consider the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 or the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. In response, our tactics have often broken the Convention Against Torture, using the threat as an excuse.
Indeed, we are told by Trump and others that because of a few madmen, we must abandon our morals and international law.
Our founding fathers were imperfect; but they did set into motion a revolution that inspired the world, proclaiming that all humans are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights. It was that revolution that inspired my great grandfather to go to America from Germany as a political refugee, and it’s the same revolution that inspired so many others to seek a more moral world. And yet of course, we have often forgotten our spine in the face of threat. In 1798, the United States almost went to war as national xenophobia convinced Congress to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, permitting the president to deport “so called dangerous” immigrants based on politics, rather than overt acts. It was also illegal to write, print or speak “falsely” against the government, a violation of the First Amendment and a “fake news” argument which surely President Trump would love. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus after the civil war started and during World War Two we interned Japanese-Americans, even though they were not a credible threat. The abuses of civil rights under Wilson in response to perceived threats from organized labor, socialism and the Germans were so severe, that in order to protect the Constitution, citizens had to form the American Civil Liberties Union.
In other words, our society is also imperfect, not just the founders; but if we are to lead the world, we must return to our revolutionary roots, resisting the temptation to weaken our system of rights and morality when under stress. Cabinet officers must be sworn not just to abide by the letter of the law, but also to abide by a high ethical standard—especially now. Finally, when thinking of Ms Haspell’s lapse of judgment, I am reminded of the Hindu poet Manu, who wrote in 1200 BC, “Justice, being destroyed, will destroy, being preserved, will preserve, it must therefore never be violated.”
Larry Roeder, South Riding