[No Comment ]The Party of Torture vs. The Party of Lincoln | Harper's Magazine

Sign in to access Harper’s Magazine

Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?

  1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
  2. Select Email/Password Information.
  3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.

Locked out of your account? Get help here.

Subscribers can find additional help here.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!

Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
Subscribe for Full Access
Get Access to Print and Digital for $23.99.
[No Comment]

The Party of Torture vs. The Party of Lincoln


Kudos to Greg Djerejian, who demonstrates extraordinary care and insight in dissecting the current infantile banter in the rightwing blogosphere on the issue of torture. Given Karl Rove’s decision to use torture as an election issue in two national elections so far, we shouldn’t be surprised that the Republican base has drunk the Kool-Aid. Nor should we be surprised that the Republican base is ignorant of the great legacy of the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. The current Republican base consists largely of Dixiecrats raised on hatred for Lincoln and indifference towards Teddy Roosevelt. On the stage that evening, only McCain and Ron Paul seemed to know and care about that legacy. Indeed, the laugh and applause punctuating the debate demonstrated an audience as much at odds with reality as the Fox News team who hosted the event.

At the time of our nation’s founding we defined ourselves through a few fundamental values–and one of the most important of these was the idea, put forward with exemplary clarity by George Washington, that prisoners must always be treated humanely. No prisoner was to be tortured or harmed, and the religious confession of each prisoner was to be accorded full respect. How far from these noble premises the Bush Administration has fallen. What lesser men they are than our country’s founders.

The key among many very clear-eyed observations that Greg puts forward are these:

To the press corps, I say, the next time a Presidential candidate says “I’m not for torture, only enhanced interrogation techniques”, ask them whether induced hypothermia, sleep deprivation and water-boarding are torture? Then remind them of our treaty obligations under CAT. Ask them whether they think the “enhanced interrogation techniques” would be acceptable pursuant to Article III of the Geneva Convention? Do they wish to repudiate them? Or do they think we can do these things and not run afoul of these standards? Again, how? What will become increasingly clear is that leading Republican candidates are running on a platform that has us repudiating our treaty obligations and watering-down our constitutional standards.

So the American people will have a choice: are we to slide towards rogue nation status on such issues, or repudiate the profoundly damaging legacy of the last 6 years and regain the mantle of leading avatar of human rights in the international arena? I hope and trust Abraham Lincoln’s ‘better angels’ of human nature will prevail in this great country, and no major political party will be voted into power that is in favor of authorizing the use of techniques–by any instrumentality of the US Government–that constitute torture under internationally recognized norms.

This is about preserving our culture and our good name. These things are not irrelevant. They were won at great cost in blood and human suffering. They are being forfeited in the most foolish fashion. Once gone, the cost of recovery will be immense. In the very sage words of Abraham Lincoln’s law of war advisor, Francis Lieber:

Where no discipline is enforced in war a state of things results which resembles far more the [wars of religion] than the regular wars of modern times. And such a state of thing results speedily, too; for all growth, progress and rearing, moral or material, are slow; all destruction, relapse and degeneracy fearfully rapid. It requires the power of the Almighty and a whole century to grow an oak tree; but only a pair of arms, an ax, and an hour or two to cut it down.

Under George W. Bush our nation has entered into a period of frightful relapse and degeneracy. It has turned from its own moral legacy. It remains for those of us who care to speak out and try to stem this damage before it is too late.

More from