In the aftermath of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's summary report on "enhanced" interrogation methods employed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, we took note of the fact that Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, a retired Marine officer who has served in Iraq, had issued no statement either way on whether these actions were permissible.
That is, until yesterday:
The VA's systemic failure of our veterans keeps me up at night. The interrogation of KSM does not.
— Rep. Mike Coffman (@RepMikeCoffman) December 16, 2014
As a retired military officer with combat experience, Rep. Coffman's opinion is of particular note. One of the reasons why the United States (and most other nations) obey the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare is the hope that doing so will result in better reciprocal treatment for our own soldiers and citizens who are captured by our enemies. The New York Times wrote in October about the torture of journalist James Foley by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) prior to his execution:
At one point, their jailers arrived with a collection of orange jumpsuits.
In a video, they lined up the French hostages in their brightly colored uniforms, mimicking those worn by prisoners at the United States’ facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
They also began waterboarding a select few, just as C.I.A. interrogators had treated Muslim prisoners at so-called black sites during the George W. Bush administration, former hostages and witnesses said…
Within this subset, the person who suffered the cruelest treatment, the former hostages said, was Mr. Foley. In addition to receiving prolonged beatings, he underwent mock executions and was repeatedly waterboarded.
The "KSM" Mike Coffman referred to in his Tweet about is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged high-level Al Qaeda operative who was routinely waterboarded and subjected to other harsh measures after his capture in 2003. Coffman's citing of "KSM" is clearly meant to legitimize the interrogation methods he was subjected to–which works until you remember that the CIA tortured many more people than KSM.
There is a veteran Republican who understands the destructive cause and effect of engaging in torture–Sen. John McCain, who was himself subjected to torture as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese:
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored…
Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.
It is essential to our success in this war that we ask those who fight it for us to remember at all times that they are defending a sacred ideal of how nations should be governed and conduct their relations with others – even our enemies.
As a military officer with combat experience, we're genuinely surprised that Coffman doesn't have a better appreciation for the problems with torturing prisoners–the moral dilemma, or even the self-interested motive to protect our own troops and citizens from similar treatment. It's true that there are persons and organizations in the world who would still torture American prisoners even if we didn't–but America's credibility to hold them accountable is compromised when we are guilty of the same offenses.
Bottom line: torture shouldn't be a partisan issue, as John McCain makes abundantly clear. These are basic principles that a powerful and ethical nation should always uphold. And perhaps more than any other member of Colorado's congressional delegation, retired Marine officer Mike Coffman should get this too.
It's a real shame that he apparently does not.