A City upon a Hill
By Jerome Grossman
Americans like to think of themselves as an exceptional people in an exceptional nation. Puritan Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts preached in 1630, “For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us….” For almost 400 years these words have echoed initially across the continent, then across the globe. Leaders and preachers have described America as another Israel, chosen and sanctified by God to bring its message of Democracy to the world.
Given these ideals and aspirations, how can our government authorize torture on human beings, assaulting the very idea of civilization? The eyes of the people of the world are upon the United States as it debates the issue of torture in general, and water -- boarding in particular. U.S. government officials have admitted to systematic use of torture, including extraordinary application of heat and cold, high decibels sound, forced nakedness, hanging of living bodies in extreme stress positions, attacks on sexual organs, various forms of penetration, etc..
All tortures are forbidden under international and U.S. domestic law. Water- boarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and illegal under the Federal Anti-torture Act, Federal Assault Statutes, The Detainee Treatment Act, The Convention against Torture, and the Geneva Conventions.
Despite these laws, on November 8, the Democrat controlled Senate voted 53 to 40 to confirm Michael Mukasey as U.S. Attorney General even though he refused to say that water -boarding was illegal. The Democrats could have defeated the nomination by declaring a filibuster that requires 60 votes for passage of legislation, a maneuver used regularly by Democrats and Republicans alike. Why didn't they do this? Why didn't they seize the moral high ground by denouncing these inhuman practices and demanding that the law of the land be enforced? The American people were sickened by the abuses in Abu Grabib, by the Japanese tortures of American prisoners in World War II, by the torturing of John McCain and others by the Vietnamese, as well as similar acts by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao?
Some Democratic senators, especially Patrick Leahy of Vermont, have pointed out that torture as a method of interrogation is ineffective, producing incorrect and unreliable information, placing captured U.S. troops in danger of torture, harming the reputation of the U.S., decreasing support for U.S. policies around the world, and increasing likelihood of “blowback” revenge attacks on Americans at home and abroad.
Effective politics is a process of involving citizens in public affairs on one side or another. Surely the issue of torture would resonate with voters morally and practically, giving political advantage to the Democratic Party in the 2008 elections. Taking a strong stand for enforcing the law and rejecting torture would redeem us and tell the world that the U.S. is indeed “A City upon a Hill,”
protecting the rights and liberties of all.