he attacks of September 11, 2001, opened the public’s eyes to the long, often violent struggle against terrorists that had been waged in the shadows for decades. The United States responded with mercy for the victims and vengeance for the perpetrators of the attack. More than six years later, we have an opportunity and a duty to reflect on our actions as a nation since that day. There is much in which we can take pride.
Unfortunately, though, we have played games with the definition of torture and intentionally blurred the lines between right and wrong. That is not a situation in which America should find herself.
In bold strokes and subtle shifts, the United States opened the door to torture in an effort to “get tough” with individuals who may have had information about additional attacks in the weeks and months following 9/11. We know, among other things, that waterboarding was used against al-Qaeda operatives in U.S. custody. As of this writing, the Bush administration refuses to rule out the use of such “enhanced interrogation techniques” while continuing to insist that officials of the U.S. government do not use torture.
Let there be no mistake: waterboarding is tortureand it should never be used by the United States. No less a hero than John McCain will attest to this.
Every American president bears a mighty burden as commander in chief. We saw this firsthand with President Reagan. But President Reagan understood that our response to threats must neither diminish who we are nor undermine our values. It was President Reagan who said, “Coercion, after all, merely captures man. Freedom captivates him.”
In the war on terror, we face an enemy that will not be defeated through coercion or the use of force alone. To meet this challenge, we must live up to our ideals as a nation.
Our greatest strength is found in the power of the United States to inspire belief in freedom’s potential to transform the world for the better. But to have credibility, to have strength, our words and actions must embody the principles that have made America a beacon to the rest of the world for 232 years.
We will not win the war on terror merely by being brutal or tough. We must build policies that are first and foremost effective. Torture undermines our effectiveness in this struggle because it debases us. It reduces us to the same brutality as our enemies, and it alienates people around the world who, as General Colin Powell wrote, are “beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.”
Across its history, America has been many things: a beacon of hope, the arsenal of democracy, a champion of human rights, and a liberator. In this long litany, there is no room for torture. It is not what we are about as a country.