One year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, I have to wonder: what has
America become? Once again, CBS TV’s 60 Minutes was the focus of an American
debate, one year after the killing of Osama bin Laden. A CIA interrogator,
Puerto Rican American Jose Rodriquez, admitted on the TV show that his unit used
torture, claiming it extracted information from al-Qaida
Rodriquez wouldn’t call the measures “torture,” although most
other international agencies would.
He insisted the “enhanced
interrogation techniques” produced results that prevented other acts of
terrorism against the United States.
Well, I wonder how many enemies of
the United States were watching the same program, because it spelled out the
American case for when torture can and should be used.
In other words,
the next time the United States in involved in a war like the one we fought in
Vietnam in the 1960s, our captors could find justification to torture our
The justification was the horror of the terrorism al-Qaida used
against Americans, that because of this America was justified in using torture
against its own prisoners. Al-Qaida took the lives of 3,000 Americans on
September 11, 2001. Yet what price did America pay to force prisoners to confess
to crimes? When a prisoner is denied the right to legal representation, how do
we know they are truly guilty? Palestinians claim Israelis use torture against
So I wonder, where does righteousness fall in the case of
torture used by one nation against another? Is it the issue of who struck first?
Or is it an issue of racial superiority? Is it an issue of anger and animosity –
Rodriquez repeated during the interview the horrors of what the terrorists did
to Americans, saying that therefore he felt using the techniques against the
prisoners was justified.
I am not sure when the line of principle can be
compromised. And I am not sure if principle should ever be
Rodriquez admits that he doesn’t know if the techniques
prevented any acts of terrorism. There was no nuclear weapon exploded on the
streets of New York. There was no major anthrax massacre.
admitted that he destroyed the video tapes of the torture to protect himself and
his colleagues in the CIA.
It sounds familiar, a bit doesn’t it? What did
we really prevent? I believe that people must live by principle. Principle does
not favor one people over another. People choose to adhere to principles which
define who they really are. And if you compromise principle, regardless of the
reason, what have you become? A good example is in the battle between
Palestinians and Israelis. As a Palestinian, I should be able to stand up and
speak out against the murder of Israeli civilians by Palestinian guerrillas.
It’s not the murder that is the issue but the principle, what one believes. I
believe it is wrong to murder innocent people.
How can I speak out
against the killing of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers or settlers if I cannot
speak out against the killing of an Israeli civilian? How can anyone denounce
terrorism if they use the instruments of terrorism as a means of their own
defense? It undermines the morality of what good people represent.
not need to become terrorists to defeat terrorism.
I believe America
stands for the essence of human rights and freedom. I believe that when America
violates its principles and uses torture to force our enemies to do what we
want, what makes us any different from the terrorists.
I know many
Israelis do not support the brutality of the occupation, or even the building of
the Wall which Israelis claim may deny rights to Palestinian civilians but is
necessary to prevent terrorism.
But I also believe that many Israelis too
easily turn away from the injustices of what the Israeli government does.
Because it is easy to close your eyes when extracting vengeance against someone
else, using techniques that if applied to you would be denounced as terrorism or
What do we become when we ignore the clarity of principle in our
behavior and respond to terrorism with anger, torture and terrorism of our own?
It’s something I think that Americans, Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians must ask
One year ago, our American Navy Seals shot and killed Osama
bin Laden as he sat in his home with his wives and children. He had no weapon.
He did not respond with aggression.
One man killed. Was it murder? Is
murder ever justified? If we can kill one Osama bin Laden, can we kill 1,000
Osama bin Ladens? Or 3,000 Osama bin Ladens? Many American, Israelis, Arabs and
Palestinians may not care about these issues. They would easily and quickly use
violence against the other if they thought it would protect themselves, or maybe
even, extract a measure of vengeance.
But it bothers me to see us walk
down a dark path that has been paved by the terrorism of others.
define a principle and apply it to your actions, deep down, you know the
The writer is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and
Chicago radio talk show host.