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TORTURE: Some Thoughts


04 March 2009
On 24 February 2009, President Barack Obama said during his speech: “The United States of America Does Not Torture.”
The President’s words were cast LIVE, around the globe, and I was literally on the other side of the world, a dozen time zones away watching it on CNN.  I made a small entry on the website with a few thoughts, unleashing a torrent of criticism, which was expected; I don’t write to please, but in an attempt to deliver truth about the war.

Anytime I deliver bad news, such as back in 2006 that we were losing the war in Afghanistan while nearly everyone “knew” we were winning, there resulted an avalanche of criticism and insults, along with a decline in readership and support.  But that’s the way it goes.  If a writer wants to make money, he should avoid truth and tell people what they want to hear.  Yet to win the war, tell the truth.

Today in 2009, we are shipping another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan because we are still losing, and in fact our casualties this year will likely be double what they were last year.  But there certainly were a lot of journalists and bloggers out there during 2006 who were making folks feel good about Afghanistan.  Those were often the same people who quibbled over the definition of “civil war” in Iraq, even while Iraq was falling apart in 2006.  Many people were politically charged to avoid the term “civil war,” and at least partly as a consequence we nearly lost the Iraq war.  Today they quibble over the definition of the word “torture,” and probably wonder what in the world happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Judging by public commentary and private communications, many people now assume I am a fan of President Obama because I support his anti-torture stand.  Yet in fact, during probably dozens of radio interviews last year, I made clear to millions of Americans that I was hoping that Senator McCain would take the Oval Office.  McCain demonstrated better understanding of the wars.

Other folks said they have never seen me talk or write about torture, though I have probably done so on dozens of occasions, again to millions of Americans, long before the elections, and probably before I ever knew the name “Obama.”

Had President George Bush, or Secretary Rumsfeld said, “The United States of America Does Not Torture,” bets are on that those same people who reflexively attacked when Obama took an anti-torture stand, would have cheered and agreed had Bush or Rumsfeld delivered the same message.  Under Obama they seem to see anti-torture as too soft, though under Bush they might have viewed the same position with great national pride.  An unequivocal stand against torture might have been viewed as undeniable evidence of moral rectitude and great internal strength.  It is fair to ask, Why, if we did not torture prisoners during the first part of the war (which is just getting started), did we not come out and state, “The United States of America Does Not Torture”?

To be sure, I believe there is one circumstance when the United States should reserve the right to torture, which will be explained later.

While Bush was President, millions of people around the world wanted us to lose the Iraq war, apparently because they hated George Bush.  It was also obvious to me, during periods between war stints while traveling inside the United States, Europe and Asia, that many people relished the idea of so many Americans being killed in Iraq, and the idea that Iraqis were dying, because they hated George Bush.  Most of the American “anti-war” people were not “anti-war” at all.  If they were truly anti-war, they would be protesting the deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  They were anti-George Bush.  And today we have a similar species of thought, only it’s anti-Obama from some of the very people who previously complained about the anti-Bush reflex.

When it comes to Iraq, AfPak and torture, truth beyond politics is incredibly rare.  In fact, last year when I started calling the AfPak war the “AfPak” war, there was a volume of flak for that, yet today the administration has adopted the same term.  The fact is, there is no “Afghanistan” war per se.  Again, politics eclipses reality.  Rock, paper, scissors, POLITICS.  Politics covers rock, tosses paper out the window and uses scissors to cut up anyone who stands in the way.

Back during my war reporting of 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and now 2009, one week people would accuse me of being a Bush supporter.  Next week people would say I was a Bush-hating liberal.  It seemed that most such comments were made after someone read a single dispatch, or perhaps a single sentence in a dispatch, and then decided to comment.  This week they say I am an Obama agent and that I have displayed my “true colors.”  Bets are on that it won’t be long until I write something from the battlefield that convinces people I am on the Republican payroll.  When I talked about my intention to sue Michael Moore for copyright infringement, there were probably thousands of comments on the net that my motivations were coming strictly from a rightwing political agenda, but those comments fail to account that I also stood ground on the same issue with the U.S. Army, TIME Magazine, ABC, and many others.  I still intend to file suit against Mr. Moore, and it will be the first lawsuit I have ever filed.

When I am actually in Iraq or Afghanistan, hanging by an internet thread, I rarely have an idea what the President is saying, and so have little idea if my words are supporting or undermining the office.  War is a full-time job, writing is a full-time job, and photography is a part-time job.  So that’s two full-time jobs and a part-time.  There is no time to pay attention to what the people at home are saying.

It is perhaps just a matter of time before millions of people, many of them Americans, who previously wanted to win the AfPak and Iraq wars, will want to see those places go sour, because they hate President Obama.  Schadenfreude is alive and well.

While in Afghanistan and Iraq this year, I’ll support President Obama in the same fashion that I supported President Bush: Some days in favour, some days not.

Now let’s talk about torture.

End of PART I

Original Comment on Torture.

Reader comments and thoughtful scrutiny are encouraged.


Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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