The Horrific Price of Torture
At the height of a fierce battle in North Africa many years ago a man called Red and half a dozen of his comrades fell into the hands of the enemy. This is always a time of great peril. Regardless of an enemy's official stance on the treatment of prisoners, in the heat of the moment it all depends upon the nature and mood of the men on the scene. Red was captured by the Herman Goering Division, a German Luftwaffe unit that fought as infantry and was comprised of warriors loyal to their leaders.
The Germans were being forced to fall back so their captors gave the Americans a choice: go with us and be sent to a prisoner of war camp or stay here and await the arrival of your own troops. They chose to remain where they were. The Germans herded them into a cave and then piled large rocks in front of the entrance. This was to protect them from their own artillery fire, advancing tanks and infantry. Then they wished them luck. Red and the others were forever grateful.
But suppose those tough, battle-hardened men of the Herman Goering Division had been aware that Americans torture prisoners. Suppose they had seen pictures of other men being treated as the prisoners were treated at Abu Ghraib. Suppose they knew that Americans waterboard those they capture and employ other means of what is euphemistically called enhanced interrogation.
Any person who has ever been engaged in ground combat could give the answer in an instant. Red and his friends would have died. More than likely in as unpleasant a manner as their captors could devise.
For the sake of those who do the fighting, hope and pray America never is involved in another war in which the enemy has planes, tanks, massed artillery and infantry. In such wars many men in both armies are captured. Those who are can only hope for humane treatment.
In the past the majority of captured American lived to tell the tale. Not all, of course. The Japanese and North Vietnamese were particularly brutal in their treatment of prisoners. In all wars it has depended to a great extent upon the type of men who did the capturing and the immediately preceding events. But overall, Americans stood a good chance of survival.
No more. Our reputation has been tarnished, perhaps beyond repair. At best it will take many years, even decades, to be looked upon by the rest of the world as we once were.
Was it worth it, this inhumane treatment of prisoners in violation of not only the Geneva Convention but of common decency? No, of course it was not.
Apologists say it saved American lives. They never specify just what lives. Nor do they point to a particular place or time when these lives would have been lost. But even if they are correct, was it worth the price we have paid, the soiling of America's reputation?
No matter how brutal an enemy may be, stooping to the same level means you are no better as individuals or as a nation. You have forfeited moral superiority. Who among us may suffer as a result? Those charged with the job of fighting our wars on the ground. We claim that we support our troops but those at the highest level have let them down. Not just for today but for many years to come.