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Wednesday, April 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Mostly Cloudy and Windy
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OPINION

Torture really ticks me off
Heads should roll over what's been done in our name


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The so-called Y Generation, to which I belong, is often accused of being too cynical and uncaring. And while I'd agree we are a fairly sarcastic bunch, I think it's for the exact opposite reason: We do care. We care so much that often the only way to deal with the horrifying absurdities in the world we've inherited is through humor, dark though it may be.

Still, I can't seem to find anything funny in the recently released memos from Bush's Department of Justice on the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" - i.e., torture. Maybe I've failed my age group, or maybe these revelations are just too awful.

We'd already gotten glimpses into these tactics in a 2006 International Red Cross report that included evidence of detainees being waterboarded. Then President Bush claimed the use of this technique was perfectly legal under the circumstances.

But the recent declassification of the administration's justifications for a wide range of harsh methods evokes a deep sense of disgust. Because this is what has been done in my name. And because it looks as though they will get away with it.

President Obama says we should not dwell on our past mistakes and is resisting the call to prosecute those responsible for this "dark chapter in our nation's history." But there can be no healing, no real learning or improvement, without accountability.

Some pundits, especially on the right, claim that the use of torture has made us safer - that there would have been more attacks, more death, if not for the bold and difficult choices made by our leaders. And anyway, if you knew a bomb was about to go off in a highly populous area, wouldn't you resort to torture to get the information that could stop it?

This isn't an episode of 24, though, and there are real consequences associated with the use of torture. In his book A Question of Torture, UW-Madison professor and historian Alfred W. McCoy makes a convincing case that such methods damage our laws, our military and our international standing.

McCoy's work and opinions were highlighted in the 2008 Academy Award-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, which tracks the capture, torture and death of an innocent Afghan taxi driver named Diliwar. This is the reality of torture - not Jack Bauer deftly saving lives, but the wholesale abuse of human rights.

A recent report by the Senate Armed Services Committee shows that the Bush White House and CIA were moving to develop and implement more extreme interrogation methods almost as soon as the dust had settled on the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And the newly released memos disprove Bush administration claims that techniques like waterboarding were used only as a last resort, after other methods failed.

In fact, 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded a total of 183 times during his first month in captivity. That averages out to about six waterboardings a day - a strong indication that the U.S. turned to torture as a first resort.

And we still didn't find out where Osama bin Laden was hiding. But we may have gotten faulty intelligence connecting Saddam Hussein to al-Qaida, helping to bolster the Bush administration's flimsy and desperate rationale for going to war against Iraq in 2003.

Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that little of value was ever gained from using these methods. Even FBI Director Robert S. Mueller disputes claims that information thus gathered ever led to the disruption of a planned attack.

Still, we're told, it was wrong of Obama to make public the memos, and it would be wrong to investigate or punish those responsible. And they wonder why my generation is so damn cynical.

I voted for Obama and support many of his initiatives, but I emphatically reject his apparent willingness to let my country's use of torture go unpunished.

We are, after all, talking about war crimes here. Tactics like waterboarding, wall slamming, sleep deprivation, slapping, taunting, stress positioning, isolation and humiliation are torture, whether or not they led to "death, organ failure or serious impairment of bodily functions."

The only thing torture truly accomplishes is to increase the disconnect between what our country says it represents - freedom, liberty, democracy - and what it actually practices.

Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, well connected or not, none of that should protect anyone from justice. Here's what this Gen doesn't care about. When it comes to torture and war crimes, I don't care who you are, I want you held responsible.

Emily Mills is a local writer and musician. She blogs at www.lostalbatross.com

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