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A Question of Human Dignity

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, February 14, 2008; 1:36 PM

Who are we as a nation? Are we who we used to be? Did one terrorist attack really change all that? Can it be changed back?

Those, at heart, are the questions raised by the Senate's passage yesterday of a bill that would ban harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA -- a bill already passed by the House, and a bill President Bush has vowed to veto.

The debate is not just about waterboarding. It's about whether other tactics -- such as prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, mock executions, the use of attack dogs, the withholding of food, water and medical care and the application of electric shocks -- should be part of our official interrogation toolkit.

Whether you call them torture or not, they are undeniably cruel. They are undeniable assaults on human dignity.

They are all prohibited by the Army Field Manual, which covers all military interrogations. They are all off limits to the FBI. Now Congress wants the CIA to adhere to the same restrictions.

But Bush says no.

The propagation of our values has long been a hallmark of American foreign policy. Chief among those values has been respect for human dignity. But the message we've been sending lately is altogether different. How can we tell other countries to respect human dignity when we have made it optional for our own government? When our official policy is that the ends justify the means?

The Coverage

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "In a 51 to 45 vote, the Senate approved an intelligence bill that limits the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive interrogation tactics outlined in a U.S. Army Field Manual. The measure would effectively ban the use of simulated drowning, temperature extremes and other harsh tactics that the CIA used on al-Qaeda prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

David M. Herszenhorn writes in the New York Times: "The White House again said Mr. Bush intended to veto the bill, on the ground that it would interfere with successful intelligence gathering. . . .

"Democratic supporters of the measure hailed its passage and immediately challenged Mr. Bush to veto it, saying that to do so would effectively endorse torture. . . .

"The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said: 'We are taking an important step toward restoring our moral leadership in the world. It is now up to the president to show his own moral leadership and sign this bill into law.'"

Fanny Carrier writes for AFP: "'Torture is a defining issue, and it is clear that under the Bush administration, we have lost our way,' said Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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