As part of my routine of easing into work, I browse the headlines of the New York Times online. The headline that haunts me this morning is: "Torture Alleged at Ministry Site Outside Baghdad". U.S. military discovered 173 mostly Sunni men who had been held in a basement in Baghdad. They had been tortured by their captors, Iraqi police of the Shiite faith.
The United States government is urging Iraq to investigate the torture, but I don't see how we have the moral high ground on this issue.
It's worth remembering that three years ago President Bush declared that the Geneva convention's guidelines on the treatment of prisoners did not apply to people the United States suspects might be "terrorists." And, it's worth recalling that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld generated the guidelines on torture that let to the abuses we've seen at Abu Graib prison in Iraq. And, we should not forget that the United States' CIA has been "disappearing" suspected al Qaeda leaders to countries with poor human rights laws, where these men have no rights, no status, no humanity (See the Washington Post).
Two weeks ago, Vice President Dick Cheney was on the Hill lobbying Congress members to not put forward legislation forbidding the United States military and CIA from torturing captives. Currently, the House and Senate have to reconcile their vastly different Pentagon bills, as a result. The House, caving to the pressure from the White House, refused to include any language constraining the military and the CIA to follow the Geneva conventions on torture. The Senate, through what became known as the McCain Amendment, included a provision banning cruel and inhumane practices (recall McCain was a victim of torture when he was captured in Vietnam). And, according to the New York Times, the White House continues to pressure House members to reject the Senate versions in reconciliation.
The United States has set a poor example when it comes to torture, and we should not be surprised to find the new Iraqi government and its police force following our lead of abusing the "other." We have failed to abide the powerful ideals of equality and humanity that shaped our constitution, and now we must watch as our immoral practices haunt us.