Torture, Waterboarding Demand America’s Moral Realignment

April 15, 2016 9:45 am Last Updated: April 15, 2016 9:45 am

Torture and waterboarding have been topics of conversation with current American presidential candidates, and issues of controversy that demand our moral realignment.

These issues involve intense emotionality, but cooler heads must prevail, which is only possible with a proper understanding of natural law, ethical principles, and human decency.

The Natural Law: Foundation of Ethical Decisions

The natural law is engraved into the heart of each rational person, beckoning them to make ethical decisions that benefit society and the common good.

Natural law is always governed by reason and it is universal to every human being.

Philosophically, human beings have the capacity to freely make decisions and the foundation of ethical choices must always be dictated by the natural law.

Despite different places, times, and circumstances, natural law binds people of good will together. It has the capacity to overcome ignorance, hostility, and hatred.

Even with misunderstandings, as well as atrocities and acts of terrorism, the natural law must never be destroyed or removed from the heart of moral dignity.

The natural law is the foundation of ethical behavior, critical to the human community, and indispensable for civil law and societal harmony.

It is impossible for presidential candidates, government leaders, or anyone entrusted with authority over others to make correct moral decisions without a proper understanding of the natural law and dedication to its principles.

A panoramic view of Camp Redemption on June 19, 2004, which held the vast majority of the 3,100 prisoners of war, some eventually sent to the dreaded Abu Ghraib Prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)
A panoramic view of Camp Redemption on June 19, 2004, which held the vast majority of the 3,100 prisoners of war, some eventually sent to the dreaded Abu Ghraib Prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images)

Abu Ghraib Torture Scandal: America’s Shame

During my past experiences with the National Conference on Ethics in America at the United States Military Academy (USMA), I had the privilege of sharing, as well as listening, to inspirational ethical principles by military, corporate, athletic, and student leaders.

During one presentation on Oct. 22, 2007, Lt. General Franklin L. Hagenbeck, superintendent of the USMA at the time, honestly addressed the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

Hagenbeck stated that the scandal was a failure of ethical principles, the rule of law, justice, and integrity, defiling the U.S. Military reputation and our national honor.

Some fast facts on this shameful chapter of American history that violated natural law, human decency, and the honor deserving of our military, include the following:

  • Abu Ghraib was a U.S. Army detention center for captured Iraq’s from 2003–2006, holding as many as 3,800 detainees.
  • Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted of crimes relating to the scandal and a number of others were charged but not reprimanded.
  • Abuses were depicted in graphic photographs that went viral, showing detainees being humiliated, tortured, and abused. The scandal was described by the secretary of defense at the time as “incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.”

Fittingly, Hagenbeck’s assessment of the abuse was followed by a presentation by Len Marella, a graduate of West Point, who stressed that we must rise above our current ethical crisis by “developing citizens of character, the most defining issue of our time, and this [is] only possible when we seek to discover truth and decide what is right.”

A detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military policeman at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq Tuesday, June 22, 2004. The American soldiers said that he had repeatedly got into fights with other inmates in the prison. This photograph is one in a portfolio of twenty taken by eleven different Associated Press photographers throughout 2004 in Iraq. The Associated Press won a Pulitzer prize in breaking news photography for the series of pictures of bloody combat in Iraq. The award was the AP's 48th Pulitzer. (AP Photo/John Moore)
A detainee in an outdoor solitary confinement cell talks with a military policeman at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 22, 2004. The American soldiers said that he had repeatedly got into fights with other inmates in the prison. (AP Photo/John Moore)

Waterboarding: Issues and Response

Recently, Republican presidential candidates have addressed issues of torture and waterboarding.

One candidate stated, “Well, under the definition of torture, [waterboarding] no it’s not … It is enhanced interrogation, it is vigorous interrogation, but it does not meet the generally recognized definition of torture.”

Another candidate, also misunderstanding natural law and ethical military conduct, stated, “I have no doubt that it [waterboarding] works in terms of information and other things. And maybe not always. But I have no doubt it works.”

This candidate vowed he would bring back not only the practice of waterboarding but more.

These approaches are misguided as our nation must honor the natural law, and avoid any desecration of its principles.

Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war who personally experienced episodes of torture, said about waterboarding, “These forms of torture not only failed their purpose to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the United States and our allies, but compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good.”

Aside from McCain, CIA Director John Brennan has made it clear that his agency will not engage in harsh “enhanced interrogation” practices, including waterboarding—even if ordered to do so by a future president.

Brennan was unequivocal in his statement, “Absolutely, I would not agree to having any CIA officer carrying out waterboarding again.”

Final Reflections

There are individuals who desecrate the natural law and violate human dignity. But America must carry the torch of ethical principles and never lower our standards to those who dishonor humanity’s moral code.

Understanding natural law, Thomas Jefferson stated, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”

America is one of the treasures of the world because of our respect for human rights, moral decency, and natural law.

Our nation clearly understands that contempt for human decency is a violation of the ethical principles deeply rooted in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

America must also understand that torture, using any form of physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, abuse opponents, or sadistically satisfy revenge, is a contradiction of our dignity and moral values.

Our country deserves a moral realignment highlighted by character, ethics, and leadership.

America will be on the path to reawakening the nation when the natural law, human dignity, and moral decency are honored, and done so without compromise.

Vincent J. Bove
Vincent J. Bove

Vincent J. Bove, CPP, is a national speaker and author on issues critical to America. Bove is a recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for combating crime and violence and is a former confidant of the New York Yankees. His newest book is “Listen To Their Cries.” For more information, see www.vincentbove.com