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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Torturing terrorists, torturing America”

    President Bush was eager to draw some stark differences between Democrats and Republicans over the war on terror last week. What he got instead was a fight with the war heroes in his own party.

    On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill rebuking Bush’s intention to allow “”alternative methods”” during the interrogation of terrorist suspects. Such methods include water-boarding (simulated drowning) and cold cell, a process in which a naked prisoner is held in near-freezing conditions and methodically doused by cold water.

    Leading the uprising against the White House were three Republican grandees: Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a former secretary of the Navy and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a prisoner of war during Vietnam; and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a military judge.

    They feared the Bush administration’s push to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions would further undermine American legitimacy around the world.

    And they are right.

    The preponderance of American power today was not instituted through a democratic vote of the world’s 6.5 billion people. That power was realized through the meticulous reorganization of the post-World War II international system and some basic luck. American legitimacy as a global hegemon has maintained that system for the past 60 years.

    Legitimacy? What makes American power legitimate and relatively unopposed is our ability to keep our promises. The Geneva Conventions enshrine such promises, and the United States signed on and agreed, under Article 3, to avoid “”outrages upon personal dignity.””

    President Bush, however, doesn’t think America should stand by those promises; we ought to reword them.

    In a letter to Sen. McCain before the vote on Thursday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote in support of the Senate bill and reiterated the legitimacy argument: “”The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.””

    In the current American climate of fear, it’s easy to equate might with right. Many right-wing pundits contend that the United States should not be constrained by international treaties while under attack.

    What they fail to recognize is that the war on terror is not just a military affair but a psychological one, as well.

    Those who wish to attack America and its allies hold significant grievances against the United States. The Bush administration claims to be spreading democracy, liberty and human rights around the world, but when “”enemy combatants”” (a completely arbitrary term) are held outside any nation’s legal structures and tortured, our assertions begin to look hollow and our legitimacy as a responsible superpower is dangerously undermined.

    The psychological front of the war on terror becomes all the more entrenched.

    In a statement Friday, McCain further stressed the leadership role America plays in the global order and the legitimacy such a role demands: “”Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries … that they could issue their own legislative reinterpretations.””

    His logic is poignant. If Seychelles passed a law redefining its interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, no one would blink an eye. When the United States does so, other countries then have the diplomatic cover to follow suit, often to the detriment of a stable, rules-based international system.

    And of greatest practical concern, torture itself often produces false or bad information. The intelligence produced using torture methods may be deliberately misleading, wasting government resources on chasing shadows. Even some senior Pentagon officials believe that more cooperative forms of interrogation produce better intelligence than coercion by torture.

    What the three Republican senators are doing by standing up to the White House is a service to the American people. The Bush administration happily rides roughshod over anything that stands in its way – the proverbial elephant in the china shop – wrecking our international legitimacy while claiming to strengthen America.

    In the long run, this strategy spells nothing but trouble: America is undermining the very global system it took 60 years to build.

    And so, while President Bush was looking to pick a fight with Democrats over strategies in the war on terror, he instead got himself into a tussle with the most respected members of the GOP.

    Thank you, senators: America is all the better for it.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at

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