Honoring Troops with the Truth

America is awash in media detailing the lives of celebrities and the latest turns in political polls, but rarely addressing the painful questions about the dark side of U.S. foreign policy, a topic that Bill Moyers and Michael Winship say should be confronted this Memorial Day.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Facing the truth is hard to do, especially the truth about ourselves. So Americans have been sorely pressed to come to terms with the fact that after 9/11 our government began to torture people, and did so in defiance of domestic and international law.

Most of us haven’t come to terms with what that meant, or means today, but we must reckon with torture, the torture done in our name, allegedly for our safety. It’s no secret such cruelty occurred; it’s just the truth we’d rather not think about.

Graves at Arlington Cemetery

But Memorial Day is a good time to make the effort. Because if we really want to honor the Americans in uniform who gave their lives fighting for their country, we’ll redouble our efforts to make sure we’re worthy of their sacrifice; we’ll renew our commitment to the rule of law, for the rule of law is essential to any civilization worth dying for.

After 9/11, our government turned to torture, seeking information about the terrorists who committed the atrocity and others who might follow after them. Senior officials ordered the torture of men at military bases and detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe, and in other countries including Libya and Egypt where abusive regimes were asked to do Washington’s dirty work.

The best known of all the prisons remains Guantanamo on the southeast coast of Cuba. For years, the United States naval base there seemed like an isolated vestige of the Cold War defying the occasional threat from Fidel Castro to shut it down. But since 9/11, Guantanamo Gitmo has been a detention center, an extraterritorial island jail considered outside the jurisdiction of U.S. civilian courts and rules of evidence.

Like the notorious Room 101 of George Orwell’s 1984, the chamber that contains the thing each victim fears the most to make them confess, Guantanamo’s name has become synonymous with torture.

Nearly 800 people have been held there. George W. Bush eventually released 500 of them, sometimes after years of confinement and cruelty. Barack Obama has freed 67, but 169 remain, even though the President pledged to close the Guantanamo prison within a year of his inauguration. Now, 46 are so dangerous, our government says, they will be held indefinitely, without trial.

We almost never see the detainees. Were it not for the work of human rights organizations and the forest of lawsuits that have arisen from our actions, the prisoners would be out of sight, out of mind. Five of the Guantanamo prisoners were recently arraigned before a military commission for their role in the 9/11 attacks.

One of them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who says he was the mastermind behind 9/11. He was waterboarded by interrogators 183 times. Pentagon officials predict it will be at least another year before the five go on trial.

Earlier this month, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani the so-called “20th hijacker” who didn’t make it onto the planes filed suit in New York federal court to make public what they described as “extremely disturbing” videotapes of his interrogations.

He was charged in 2008 with war crimes and murder but the charges were dropped after the former convening authority for the Guantanamo military commissions, Susan Crawford, told journalist Bob Woodward that al-Qahtani’s treatment “met the legal definition of torture.”

He remains in indefinite detention, as does Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi citizen alleged to have run terrorist training camps. He was waterboarded at least 83 times in a single month. Just this week a federal appeals court refused to release information on the interrogation methods the CIA used on Abu Zubaydah and other terrorist suspects.

You may also have seen the flurry of action this month around a section of the new National Defense Authorization Act that allows the military to detain indefinitely not only members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and “associated forces” but anyone who has “substantially supported” them.

A federal court struck down that provision in response to journalists and advocates who believe it could be so broadly interpreted it would violate civil liberties. Nonetheless, two days after the court’s decision, the House of Representatives reaffirmed the original provision.

The other day, eight members of the Bush Administration including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were found guilty of torture and other war crimes by an unofficial tribunal meeting in Malaysia.

The story was played widely in parts of the world press, with reports that the judgment could lead the way to proceedings before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It received almost no mention here in the United States.

This summer, it’s believed that the United States Senate’s intelligence committee finally will release a report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that euphemistic phrase for what any reasonable person not employed by the government would call torture.

The report has been three years in the making, with investigators examining millions of classified documents. The news service Reuters says the report will conclude that techniques such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation do not yield worthwhile intelligence information.

So here we are, into our eleventh year after 9/11, still at war in Afghanistan, still at war with terrorists, still at war with our collective conscience as we grapple with how to protect our country from attack without violating the basic values of civilization the rule of law, striving to achieve our aims without corrupting them, and restraint in the use of power over others, especially when exercised in secret.

In future days and years, how will we come to cope with the reality of what we have done in the name of security? Many other societies do seem to try harder than we do to come to terms with horrendous behavior commissioned or condoned by a government.

Beginning in 1996, in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held hearings at which whites and blacks struggled to confront the cruelty inflicted on human beings during apartheid.

And perhaps you caught something said the other day by the president of Brazil, Dilma Roussef. During the early 1970s, she was held in prison and tortured repeatedly by the military dictators who ruled her country for nearly 25 years. The state of Rio de Janeiro has announced it will officially apologize to her.

Earlier, when she swore in members of a commission investigating the dictatorship, President Roussef said: “We are not moved by revenge, hate or a desire to rewrite history. The need to know the full truth is what moves us.”

In other words, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at www.BillMoyers.com.

10 comments for “Honoring Troops with the Truth

  1. fusion
    May 31, 2012 at 19:50

    Essential to this discussion…

    “On this Memorial Day, Veterans For Peace asks you to mourn not only for Americans killed in battle, but also for those killed by Americans in battle. We ask you to be willing to accept the fact that these war deaths did not have to happen—that they are actually in vain. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died in American wars of aggression. That is a tragedy and is a truth that must be accepted and for which we must take responsibility.”

    Leah Bolger, National President of Veterans For Peace,


  2. fusion
    May 31, 2012 at 19:49

    Essential to this discussion:

    “On this Memorial Day, Veterans For Peace asks you to mourn not only for Americans killed in battle, but also for those killed by Americans in battle. We ask you to be willing to accept the fact that these war deaths did not have to happen—that they are actually in vain. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died in American wars of aggression. That is a tragedy and is a truth that
    must be accepted and for which we must take responsibility.”

    Leah Bolger, National President of Veterans For Peace,


  3. May 28, 2012 at 02:17

    His Eminence The Patriarch Sir. Archbishop Michael

  4. Otto Schiff
    May 27, 2012 at 21:34

    I am surprised to keep seeing Rehmats antisemitic garbage here so often.
    I think he is a good target for suicide.

  5. a. wall
    May 26, 2012 at 08:36

    maybe humans really do have a “nature”, a “human nature.” we assuredly have a biological nature over which we largely have no control, but our behavioral “natures” i suspect are basically taught, and from day one. we are taught to accept the capitalist slave system; we are taught petty allegiences (high school football teams, etc.), local and state prides, even national pride when it is clearly adverserial to human decency and respect. humans, like other creatures, become what they are taught. with retilian brains in charge of our government what can we expect but blood and slaughter, and cheers for our savage heroes?

    • Suzanne Benning
      May 27, 2012 at 17:56

      Well said, but you are probably centuries ahead of most of the people in this country

  6. Hillary
    May 25, 2012 at 22:30

    Was the First Shot in Israel’s War to Achieve Nuclear Supremacy Fired in Dallas, Texas on Nov. 22, 1963 ?


    The greatest private donors to the development of Israel’s nuclear bomb were private American citizens.(Seymour Hersh)



  7. Jose Rios
    May 25, 2012 at 16:27

    I’m just confused as to why people think “we just turned to torture after 9/11” it kind if gives us the excuse of we had PTSD as an Entire country. I’ll remember the dead afghans & Iraqis who chose no war, who volunteered for nothing, & most are dead, or homeless, or now 1 childless, or husband or wifeless, or had children born with deformities because of chemical weapons used on their parents. It’s way past time that we finally remembered the TRUE victims of these wars, & to seriously work harder to nit “make war the 1st option”

  8. incontinent reader
    May 25, 2012 at 13:52

    In the meantime, what won’t happen with the troops is be told the truth about the war, its reasons, the governmental deceptions, the nation’s lawlessness, and the shamefulness of our destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan. Nor will those that have been maimed, or damaged mentally, get the health care they need.

  9. incontinent reader
    May 25, 2012 at 13:46

    The Administration will never admit to the illegality or immorality of torture, or at least to the fact that it doesn’t work. Witness the (obviously approved) publication of Jose Rodriguez’s book justifying water boarding, bragging about its successes, discrediting its much better qualified FBI detractors, and making a lame excuse for his destruction of the video evidence of multiple acts of torture. The man should be prosecuted and renditioned to experience the same fate as his victims, and his royalties, salary and pension turned over to them or their families. Philip Giraldi has a good article about Rodriguez in the American Conservative, including mention of the reviews of his book on Amazon.com. The ones I saw all praised Rodriguez, including the lead one by Michael Hayden, who is as recidivist and unrepentant a criminal as one will find, starting from his role in Iran Contra. Needless to say he is on the Romney foreign policy team. That guy should be renditioned to a Kazakistan prison just before they kick the Americans out of their country and then begin the interrogation process.

Comments are closed.