Editorial Column: Stevens, Why Haven’t You Voted to Ban Torture?

Anchorage Daily News

March 9, 2008 – On Feb. 13, 2008, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens voted against a Senate measure that limits the CIA to the 19 interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual (and so did Lisa Murkowski). That was a vote to allow the CIA to continue the use of “waterboarding” as an interrogation technique.

So what’s the big deal?

Well, waterboarding is torture, pure and simple. In the words of a former master instructor for U.S. Navy SEALs:

“Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration — usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death.”

By any measure, waterboarding is cruel and unusual treatment. It is classified as torture by the Geneva Conventions. Tyrants have used waterboarding for centuries. Waterboarding was used extensively in the Spanish Inquisition; it was used against African slaves in our own country and against our troops in World War II; and it’s currently being used against pro-democracy activists in Burma. The use of waterboarding for any purpose is repugnant to American values.

In an op-ed in the Feb. 18, 2008, New York Times, Air Force Col. Morris Davis (former chief prosecutor for the military commission trials at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba), stated:

“My policy as the chief prosecutor … was that evidence derived through waterboarding was off limits. That should still be our policy. To do otherwise is not only an affront to American justice, it will potentially put prosecutors at risk for using illegally obtained evidence … I was overruled on the question, and I resigned my position to call attention to the issue.”

It’s hard to believe that Sen. Stevens wants an America that employs torture, but that’s the way he voted.

And it’s not the first time. In the fall of 2005, he voted against an amendment to the Military Appropriations Bill that requires all service members to follow interrogation procedures in the Army Field Manual (which, not surprisingly, do not include torture). Stevens was only one of nine senators to vote against the amendment. (Lisa Murkowski voted with the majority that time.)

At the time, he commented that he might be able to support a measure to outlaw torture, but only if it contained guidance that authorized the use of torture in some proceedings: “I’m talking about people who aren’t in uniform, may or may not be citizens of the United States, but are working for us in very difficult circumstances … sometimes interrogation and intimidation is part of the system,” he told the Congressional Quarterly.

So, it seems Stevens will only vote to prohibit torture if the statute in question permits torture.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Perhaps Stevens should reflect on the words of Patrick Henry, who stated that if we “extort confession by torture in order to punish with still more relentless severity, we are then lost and undone.”


So how about it, senator? Will you explain to Alaskans your votes for torture, or will you keep your silence? As an American, an Alaskan, and a veteran, I am deeply saddened that you have not accounted for those shameful votes. Alaskans deserve an explanation.

Philip J. Smith is a lifelong Alaskan and a veteran of the U.S. Army (1964 — 1967). He is a retired civil servant and is the president of the Juneau chapter of Veterans for Peace.

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