February 17, 2008

Moral Courage, Definition of

TWENTY-SEVEN years ago, in the final days of the Iran hostage crisis, the C.I.A.’s Tehran station chief, Tom Ahern, faced his principal interrogator for the last time. The interrogator said the abuse Mr. Ahern had suffered was inconsistent with his own personal values and with the values of Islam and, as if to wipe the slate clean, he offered Mr. Ahern a chance to abuse him just as he had abused the hostages. Mr. Ahern looked the interrogator in the eyes and said, “We don’t do stuff like that.”

Today, Tom Ahern might have to say: “We don’t do stuff like that very often.”

If you're an active-duty military officer who wants to make a statement speaking out against the use of torture, you couldn't ask for a bigger soapbox to stand on top of than the Sunday New York Times op-ed page. And it's hard to believe anyone could speak with more weight and authority on the issue than the man who was the government's prosecutor -- not defender, prosecutor -- at Guantanamo from 2005 to 2007. If this act of supreme moral courage marks the end of the military career of Col. Morris Davis of the U.S. Air Force, as we suspect it might, it will be to the country's loss.

Mitt Romney and President Bush need to read this op-ed, and so too do all those non-military officers out there who continue to throw red meat to the right wing in the U.S. by defending the use of torture -- including waterboarding. (Thanks, John.)

We can start by renouncing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees and unreservedly committing to uphold the Detainee Treatment Act, which passed Congress in 2005 but was diluted by a presidential signing statement. We must also reaffirm our adherence to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which the Senate ratified in 1990.

Just as important, we need to come to grips with the practice known as waterboarding, the simulated drowning of a person to persuade him to talk.


Why a few ... in positions of power still find it so difficult to admit the obvious about waterboarding is astounding. We can never retake the moral high ground when we claim the right to do unto others that which we would vehemently condemn if done to us.