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My Turn: Always and everywhere, torture is wrong

Last modified: 1/5/2015 12:54:14 AM
As the child of an emigrant family that escaped from a Hungary ruled by a communist government, I heard many stories of relatives and friends enduring extreme cruelties and torture by that government. Perhaps this was the reason I joined Amnesty International 40 years ago.

The organization is dedicated to helping the victims of human rights abuses and supporting the abolition of torture worldwide. After my family became American citizens, I never imagined that my new adopted country would engage in torture and abuse of prisoners. But in the 1970s, the investigations by Sen. Frank Church revealed that the CIA was not only attempting to assassinate some leaders of South American and Central American countries but that they were also assisting in torturing prisoners in those countries and training the torturers.

I knew this was occurring since I was a caseworker for some prisoners in those countries. The 1976 investigations resulted in the CIA being prohibited from involvement in such activities in the future. The Church report stated: “The United States must not adopt the tactics of our enemies. Means are as important as ends.”

Despite President Reagan’s signature on the U.N. Convention Against Torture, it is now clear that President Bush authorized the CIA to engage in torture once again after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. While the FBI is experienced at interrogations, as is the U.S. Army, neither of these two organizations was called upon to interrogate prisoners. They were avoided because they either refused or were forbidden from using torture on prisoners.

On the other hand, the CIA, which was a bit rusty after some 25 years, was asked to do the dirty work, and promptly started hiring outside contractors and consultants.

It is now time for CIA director John Brenner to be fired, and for President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and some legal advisers previously at the Justice Department to be held accountable for crimes against humanity. They have done great harm to our international reputation, and have endangered both U.S. military personnel stationed abroad as well as ordinary U.S. citizens traveling overseas.

While our government is considering actions as the result of the new torture revelations, organizations and even countries have already indicated that they are planning to take legal and diplomatic actions on behalf of any victim who was tortured by the CIA within their country’s borders.

President Obama should take both punitive actions against those who authorized the use of torture in the name of the American people, as well as preventive actions to avoid any reoccurrence of such activities in the future. Many of our closest allies have been protecting themselves against terrorists for many years without resorting to torture. The reasons torture is wrong are many, including Sen. John McCain’s comments (a victim of torture himself), that it yields primarily false information and disgraces the reputation of our country.

It is morally, religiously wrong, always and everywhere. We all know it.

(Peter Somssich lives in Portsmouth.)


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