Tuesday, May 09, 2006

At last

After years of controversy about torture of prisoners at American military prisons, the government has finally decided to ban the process of "waterboarding" a procedure already illegal under international treaties to which this nation is a signatory.

A year ago in January, I described Teddy Roosevelt's response to allegations that American soldier were waterboarding prisoners in the Philippines:
Amid mounting cries of revulsion, the President swung into action. He … demanded a full briefing on the Philippine situation. [Secretary of War] Root said defensively that one officer accused of water torture had been ordered to report for trial. Roosevelt was not satisfied.
From Theodore Rex (Modern Library Paperbacks) by Edmund Morris.

For Roosevelt, as for so many people, America represents something great and good. Teddy said "I thouroughly believe in severe measures when necessary, and am not in the least sensitive about killing any number of men when there is adequate reason." But he also would not tolerate torture, nor attacks on women and children. America is important, too important to get buried under the filth of waterboarding, of torture, of extrajudicial murder.

This isn't weakness. It isn't weak to refuse to be brutal. Brutalizing a prisoner isn't strength, it's the sign of a weak bully. Roosevelt knew the difference, this White House doesn't.