A Senate report released this week on the CIA’s interrogation program of suspected terrorists during the tenure of former-President George W. Bush has generated a few emotions, to say the least.
Some are screaming that the details put out for public consumption could endanger the lives of some operatives. Some argue that this is a political lynching of a president who has been out of office for years now. Some say that this illustrates that the United States is officially out of control. And others are suggesting that some things are just better off left behind the scenes, under lock and key, and preferably never to be heard from again.
In the interest of full disclosure, I used to fall under that last category.
My reasoning was that every night I get to sleep in a very comfortable bed, surrounded closely by my family, with a thermostat nearby to adjust my climate to ideal sleeping conditions. I could do that, I figured, because brave people were off in some awful place doing whatever was necessary so I could live this comfortable life.
I was never comfortable with the idea of torture in general, and even less so when considering the possibility that it was Americans doing said torturing, but the thought would always quickly leave my mind as soon as possible.
See no evil. Speak no evil.
Every now and then I would hear someone argue that since the people we are facing in combat are so barbaric and inhumane, we need to do the same. Fight fire with fire, they would argue, and I would listen to them, often nodding my head and feeling some sense of agreement.
But things change with time, both around the world and in my muddled head. You see, the older I get, the more I believe that, as people, we have to worry about ourselves first. I can’t control what other people do, say or think — nor should I want to.
What I can control is what I think and believe. And what our nation can control is how we behave.
As Americans, we used to pride ourselves on honor and dignity. I remember sitting in a classroom as a young Marine, right before we departed for the first Gulf War. We sat through a lot of classes in those days, many focusing on Islamic culture and traditions, so that we wouldn’t do anything to disrespect the people we were going over to protect. But the class I harken back to today was focused on the rules of the Geneva Convention.
We were told how to treat prisoners. How and when to engage in a firefight. Shoot, they spoke to us about how long the blades could be on our knives. Many of us were young, a bit more than standardly cocky, and chomping at the bit, ready to head overseas. One of my buddies asked the officer instructing the class how much of this information was really necessary for us to know.
“Every last bit of it,” he answered. “You are Marines, and you will hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else.”
That struck a chord with all of us. You could see shoulders rise immediately and the sound of pencil meeting paper was more distinct after those words, as everyone in the room began taking copious notes.
Somewhere along the travels of life, I think I’ve forgotten that statement from time to time. I’ve worried more about results than the path taken to get there. I think, to some degree, many of us lose that standard of expectation. But the older I’ve gotten, and the more responsibility I’ve been tasked with over the years, the more I appreciate those words.
Yes, there are people out there who behave deplorably, and we oftentimes find ourselves facing a confrontation with them. Do we lower ourselves to their levels and throw decency out the window? Or do we lift ourselves up and behave admirably, knowing that the fight won with honor is a fight to be honored?
Look, I hate war. I hate it. I have lost people I love, and sat with people who have lost those they loved. I’ve seen men I served with battle alcohol, drugs, depression and physical limitations that rendered them immobile.
But I do believe in standing up for what is right and, if asked, I would immediately walk that walk again, as would the majority who have served this nation.
That being said, I read in the Senate report that 26 of the 119 CIA detainees should not have even been apprehended, and that one man was “subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of sleep deprivation” before the CIA discovered he was not who they thought he was. That is revolting.
We must hold ourselves to a higher standard if we are really going to “fight the good fight.” Otherwise, it’s just noise.