Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Embracing Torture

As reported in the L.A. Times, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr., 43, was convicted in the negligent homicide of an Iraqi general under questioning in Iraq.

According to the report,

Witnesses testified that Welshofer stood by while Iraqi nationals, reportedly in the employ of the CIA, beat the general for about 30 minutes with rubber hoses. The next day, Welshofer took the general to the roof of the prison and, while other soldiers held him down, poured water on his face.

The general did not answer questions, so the following morning Welshofer turned to what was dubbed "the sleeping bag technique."

[H]e he put Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush face-first in a sleeping bag, wrapped him in electrical wire and sat on his chest in November 2003. The 57-year-old general died after 20 minutes in the bag.

For this, Welshofer was sentenced to a loss of $6,000 salary, confined to base for 60 days, and a reprimand. The money can be easily made up by donations from those who celebrate this type of behavior.

In summary, the U.S. Military could have just hung a sign from the Statue of Liberty saying, "Torture Unto Death Welcome Here."

There are several elements in this case that show such a depth of moral depravity that Americans once condemned in the harshest possible terms. Now, we have become a country that embraces these techniques and applaud those who perform them.

Our moral compass is not only off, it is completely broken.

Among the claims made in defense of Welshover is that he thought he was following orders in using creative questioning techniques. The sleeping bag technique was approved by his superior officer.

The Nuremburg Trials, which put German soldiers on trial for war crimes, completely repudiated the idea that a soldier could claim innocence based on the fact that "I was just following orders." Beyond this, we can distinguish between the case in which a person reluctantly followed a command he was given, and a soldier who went to a superior officer with a plan seeking approval. This instance went so far beyond an example of "I was just following orders that it does not even deserve a mention.

Defense lawyer Frank Spinner also said in favor of his client, "...you've got to give them room to make mistakes and not treat them like criminals,"

Perhaps we should apply this same principle to drunk drivers and those who go around waving guns at people.

We can recognize the need for a different set of standards in the heat of battle. Even with the death of civilians in Pakistan, I would not call for any formal charges to be filed unless an investigation showed that somebody was grossly irresponsible in selecting this particular target.

However, we are talking here about an unarmed man in custody.

I have argued before that one of the fundamental principles of morality concerns its universalizability. What we do to others, we tell to others that it is permissible for them to do.

In evaluating the behavior of Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer, one question we should be asking is, "What would our reaction be to news of somebody doing this to a captured American officer?"

Would we consider a $6,000 fine to be sufficient?

Or would we consider this to be evidence that we are fighting an opponent that is truly evil, that has no respect for life, and one that deserves to be defeated?

Seriously, now. Assume that we learned of the death of an American soldier under exactly these same conditions. Would we consider people who would do such a thing to be good or evil?

That which we embrace, we encourage in others. That which we embrace we tell the world, 'This is good. This is how things should be.'


Anonymous said...

Excellent and articulate. Thank you. I am ashamed and appalled to be a U.S. citizen today.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I would not say that I am ashamed to be an American. I have not condoned or participated in any of these actions, I have spoken out against them, and at the next opportunity I will use the opportunity to vote to remove from power any politician so immoral that they do not also condemn this tpe of conduct.

Anonymous said...

Alonzo, There is one question that I have always wanted an answer or opinion on. Why do people fear atheism? As anyone who reads your site, or talks to atheists could tell you, we are not immmoral people, in some ways we are more moral the the moral christian bigots that are in charge of our overnment. Any insight on this?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


One does not need a reason to hate.

The Nazi (and Protestant) hatred of the Jews in no way depended on whether the average Jew were more or less moral than the average Ayrian. Hate does not always need a reason.

Be that as it may, we are seeped in a culture in which children are surrounded by the message, "atheists are evil."

The Pledge of Allegiance compares us to separatists, tyrants, and perpetrators of injustice.

Our national motto tells all who know it to divide the nation's population in to a "we" who trust in God and a "they" who do not -- stating that our national motto is to view atheists as "they", outsiders, lepers, unclean.

The Boy Scouts, and many other youth organizations, preach the idea that being a person of good moral character requires belief in God. This is why they exclude atheists, because an atheist cannot be moral.

Half of the politicians running for office will stand up in front of one audience after another and say, "We must let God back in our schools in order to promote a more moral society," and be cheered for doing so. This is simply a way of saying that "All of the problems that we are having are caused by them atheists and, if we can just get rid of them, we can live happily ever after."

In a society such as this, is it any wonder that so many people hate atheists.