Photo by Edward F. Palm)

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Waterboarding and Human Rights

(Volunteers encouraging support for the troops, just outside Fort Lewis, on an overpass over Interstate 5, 17 October 2009)
It never fails.  Every time I catch even a few minutes of Michael Medved’s radio program I hear something appalling.  Today, Medved’s guest was one Vince Flynn, whom I learned is the author of a series of political thrillers.  I heard Flynn justify waterboarding on the following grounds:
                First, according to Flynn, waterboarding is not really torture.  Flynn claimed that all of us who, as children, have engaged in horseplay at a public swimming pool have, in essence, been waterboarded.
                 (Strange, but I don’t remember being subjected to, or engaging in, anything like waterboarding in my numerous childhood trips to the Canby Park Pool in Wilmington, Delaware.)
                 Second, Flynn claims that it is effective.  He acknowledged that torture can indeed make anyone admit to anything, but he claims that our C.I.A. waterboarders do it skillfully.  They supposedly establish a “baseline” by asking questions they already know the answers to.  He went on to claim that, after being waterboarded, Sheik somebody (I don’t recall the name) finally broke down and drew diagrams of the Taliban’s organization. 
                (But were they accurate diagrams, and did they really benefit our side?  Flynn didn’t say.)
                 Third, Flynn reminded Medved’s listeners that these waterboardees were not U.S. citizens, so they had no rights for us to violate.  He further argued that their organization was not a signatory to any international agreements regarding “human rights.” 
                Of course, Flynn also reminded Medved’s listeners that these were the people who attacked us and who still mean to do us harm.  Granted, but Flynn doesn’t seem to see the irony in his position.
                As I understand it, radical Moslems have felt justified in beheading Westerners on camera because they were “infidels” after all.  Flynn seems to be advancing the same justification but coming at it from the other end.  If you’re not an American, he seems to be arguing, you have no human rights and can therefore be waterboarded.   The American prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” as Flynn interprets it, applies only to Americans. 
                Flynn’s argument is a perfect illustration of how we lost the moral high ground and the respect of the world.  I was always taught that America holds certain human rights to be “self-evident” and applicable to all people.  (Remember “when in the course of human events” and all that?) Sure, we were attacked, and it was horrific.  But, to my mind, that’s all the more reason to continue upholding the values and ideals we believe to be superior to those of the extremists who attacked us.  To do otherwise would be to hand our adversaries the most significant victory they could win.
                I can’t resist a familiar paraphrase:  what will it profit us if we win the Global War on Terror but lose our national soul?  --EFP

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