HILSINGIN SANOMAT 2/11/2005
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COMMENTARY: Torture doesn't pay
By Tomi Ervamaa
There are sometimes moments when a journalist has to admit: I don't get it. I don't understand it, however hard I try.
I don't understand why the United States is deliberately harming itself.
It is as if the U.S. administration is actively making an effort to blacken its reputation. It is as if it would seek to declare to the world that it regards human rights as a matter of little import, to be sacrificed as soon as it sees fit.
The most recent case in point has been the action of Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Cheney proposed that an amendment to a military spending bill be drafted such that it would permit the torture of prisoners in the case of "clandestine counter-terrorism operations conducted abroad".
There is no need to be naive. Of course American agents have throughout the years tortured their prisoners, and will in all likelihood continue to do so into the future. The same goes for the spooks and black-ops operatives of other powerful countries.
Nonetheless it is is repugnant that people in the United States have started to refer seriously to torture being an acceptable measure in the "war on terror". Now this line has been confirmed by the administration's second-in-command, Cheney.
The practice is what it is, but the words that are spoken as a matter of record are significant. As is what the leaders imply to the military and espionage bureaucracy unofficially.
The present administration in Washington has clearly given the signal: go for it, squeeze the information out of them.
Result: Americans have time and again been caught for torturing detainees.
The consequence of this: millions of people around the world regard the Americans as barbarians. U.S. diplomats have no chance of going to speak, say, to Arab audiences about human rights without encountering derisive grins and venomous reminders.
The terrorists have gained an excellent propaganda weapon.
Why is it that the U.S. administration finds it essential to smack itself in the face in this way? Is it in order that it would be sure to secure the information that might help avert a terrorist attack and thereby save lives? To send a message to the terrorists that it is serious, that the West is not soft on these things?
Perhaps this kind of toughness pays dividends.
I do not believe so. No information - often unreliable - gathered through torture, and no credibility won by playing hardball can weigh in the balance alongside the lamentable public relations defeat that Washington has brought on itself.
Cheney is also bringing shame upon the national heritage of his own country: respect for human rights has been a pillar of American values for well over 200 years - irrespective of the atrocities and death sentences of its history.
And so the Senate has approved, 90 to 9, an amendment to the budget that bans the use of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" of detainees held by the United States government. Cheney has been given the brush-off.
It is fortunate that Washington is a place with such a strong awareness of tradition.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 30.10.2005
TOMI ERVAMAA / Helsingin Sanomat