Why we can never compromise on principle

Yalla Peace: We do not need to become terrorists to defeat terrorism.

Osama bin Laden 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Osama bin Laden 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 prisoners.
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 soldiers.
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 prisoners, too.
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 compromised.
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.
He even 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.
We do 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 torture.
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 themselves.
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.
When you define a principle and apply it to your actions, deep down, you know the truth.
The writer is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.