Can I Use The "Following Orders" Excuse, Too?

It's an understandable desire for the American people to put the Bush Administration behind us, along with all the dark shadows of his regime. The eight years we made it through were marred with scandal and questionable ethics, and weren't the kind of thing you find celebrated in history books. However, in President Obama's assertion that doing just that is the thing to do in order to move forward, he is letting people, literally, get away with murder. Included in those dark shadows we are putting behind us is an ever growing stack of evidence that torture, in some cases causing death, was used against detainees in the War on Terror.

As I'm sure you know, President Obama has already taken steps to put an end to the questionable practices that have come under fire. Guantanamo Bay, where torture knowingly took place, is being closed, and along with it, the numerous overseas CIA prisons used to duck out of international law. You know, like that pesky Geneva Convention. He has spoken out and assured the American people torture would not be used under his administration. Well, that's wonderful. It really is. We need to make sure these things don't happen in the future. But when Obama also claims going after those people who have committed these acts of violence is counterproductive, he's sorely mistaken.

It's easy to look at the situation and try to make it less than it was. They were "supposed terrorists." We needed "intelligence." America is, after all, the great spreader of Democracy and Freedom, and not the dreaded abusers of power. Well, sorry, but we apparently became just that while interrogating these "enemy combatants." By ambiguously pressuring soldiers to obtain intelligence from those brought into prisons such as Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo, and then giving them few (if any) directions in regards to how to do this, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and President Bush are directly responsible for the violence that took place in all three prisons, as well as others. Of course, they act surprised these things -- the photos of prisoners being sexually humiliated in Abu Ghraib, the numerous homicide deaths of detainees, the videos of men driven to their breaking point, pounding their heads against the wall -- but how can they not know what the shackles on the ceiling are used for? How do they not know their soldiers are, as in the case of one detainee, "pulpifying" their legs using knee kicks?

The detainee referred to above was picked up by Afghan militia in Yabuki. His name was Dilawar and he was a taxi driver. If you've seen the film Taxi to the Dark Side, you know this story. After being hired by three men in a nearby town, he was taken in with them as the "get away driver" after a bombing. Dilawar had nothing to do with the bombing; he had picked the men up afterwards on the street when they said they were going to Yabuki. He was taken to Bagram prison, where he died a week later. The cause of death was ruled homicide -- blunt force trauma. Soldiers who dealt with -- or rather, beat -- Dilawar have since admitted use of force was unnecessary. After days of sleep deprivation, the detainee was hallucinating and hysterical, calling out for his parents late into the night. The soldiers used the knee kicks -- digging into the upper thigh with one's knee, which is supposedly non-fatal -- to silence him, or, in some cases, to hear him scream out, "Allah!" The same soldiers have also said they didn't think he was guilty of anything from the very beginning. And yet, Dilawar was killed.

So, where's the justice in that? What about the other 37 homicides caused by this same kind of violence? If that's not torture, I don't know what is. War on Terror (a term which will not be used in the Obama administration, according to Secretary Clinton) aside, there comes a time when you need to look at it for what it is. People beating people to death. People humiliating people. People playing on the fears and cultural values to demean people. Much like these things were unacceptable during World War II, they are unacceptable in this supposed War on Terror. The claims that people were "just following orders" is ridiculous. Let the courts decide who was "just following orders," and who was just giving those orders.

The issue of torture is not a partisan battle. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. It's a moral issue, a human issue. A matter of people not accused of anything but, in many cases and like Dilawar, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To use one of those precious Nazi references thrown around lately, Hitler himself never gave explicit orders to kill any Jews. He just said to take care of the problem. Rumsfeld never said to "torture" anyone, he just said to get the information. Well, as information slowly leaks to the American people, I can only hope more of us become as outraged as we should be that these things were carried out in our name. And let's hope we do carry out the promises of leading the world morally, not just militarily, under Obama. So let's all take step one together. Let's bring the people responsible, at the highest levels, to justice.

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