Friday, September 22, 2006

Interrogation techniques

The Bush Administration continues to push for unfettered authority to use whatever interrogation techniques it deems acceptable in extracting information from prisoners believed to have some connection to terrorism. It considers the so-called "vague language" of the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, with its prohibition against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," an impediment in that pursuit.

Much of the argument in Washington has centered on "clarifying" the rules under Common Article 3, as to what techniques are "humiliating," "degrading," or "outrages upon personal dignity." Is waterboarding humiliating and degrading, or just cruel and inhumane? (Never mind that "cruel treatment and torture" are also prohibited.)

The bottom line is extraordinarily simple and straightforward, and it boils down to a principle that should be familiar to President Bush: the Golden Rule.

Any treatment of prisoners that the United States would find objectionable if some other country — or non-state actor — engaged it against our citizens, should be ruled out in our interrogation of prisoners. Can there be any doubt that Americans would rise up in the streets, demanding military retaliation, if some foreign power subjected our citizens to waterboarding, stress positions, cold rooms, and other techniques we know the United States has already used?

Say all you want about how the terrorists are savages without conscience who are out to kill as many of us as possible; that's irrelevant to this discussion. The question is, what example do we want to set for the rest of humanity, as well as for our own future generations?

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