Is this the same country that I grew up in?
When I was twelve years old, my father gave me a battered paperback copy of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and told me to read it. Please don’t confuse Heinlein’s original book with the dreadful movie made from it decades later – there is simply no comparison, and apart from a character name or two, almost no resemblance. When I returned the book to my father, I told him I was going to enlist in the U.S. military on my 18th birthday. Dad, who was a lifelong patriot and the Major who had been in charge of all the A/V material sent back to the U.S. from the European theater in World War II, laughed very heartily at the daughter he loved – but he was not at all displeased.
I had the last laugh. The only change in my plan was from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Air Force. I raised my right hand and took the enlistment oath on my 18th birthday. It might be a good idea to review that oath once in awhile:
“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
I was proud to serve my country, and I humbly submit that I understood one portion of that oath as completely as any adolescent can only because I was well taught during Basic Training. “…according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice” is not in the least ambiguous. No military member has an obligation to obey an unlawful order, and no military member should ever do so. Many classroom and lecture hours were spent on teaching us what to do about an unlawful order, and sure enough, I had reason to exercise that training in my first year of service when my NCOIC gave me an instruction that clearly stepped over that very intangible line between appropriate military leadership and fraternizing with a subordinate. A simple and civil request for said instruction to be presented in writing resulted in an instant about-face – and in the long term, a much better relationship with said supervisor, a professional one based upon respect. It was an important lesson.
That nightmare moment, several years ago now, when I first saw the disgusting torture and abuse photographs released from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, I knew that the training I had received was no longer a part of basic military training. I believed, and still believe, that the decision to remove that training was dangerous, and I predict that in the long term, it will do far more harm to this country than good.
The problem is that this segment of our training did not produce the sort of little robots that our Decider-in-Chief has decided we need in this modern world.
I am sorry to say that I did not fully understand that portion of that oath where I swore to “uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” until many years after I took the oath. Nor could I have imagined in September of 1972 that the worst domestic enemies our Constitution would ever face would one day inhabit Capitol Hill and the White House, not even with the example of Richard Nixon staring me right in the face.
I do understand it now, with absolutely chilling clarity. And like many of my contemporaries who also served their country, I do know that my discharge did not absolve me of that oath. Nothing this side of death can do that. I am no longer in the United States military, but I took that oath freely and without coercion, and I remain obligated to its terms until I take up residence six feet below ground.
This morning, I woke up to read in the Washington Post that the CIA, after receiving orders to torture suspects soon after September 11, 2001, had some very understandable concerns about the legality of these orders. It isn’t my intention to disparage the service of the few remaining decent men and women in the intelligence services, but I do want to stress how weird and unusual it is for the CIA to have concerns about anything at all short of what would gag any self-respecting maggot.
There were several meetings held at the White House over these concerns. Please imagine this, if you can. The Director of Central Intelligence – George Tenet, by the way, at the time – is concerned about the torture of suspects. Condi Rice is there, and I am sure that Dick Cheney and President Bush were there. Who was it that actually said it was okay?
And how could anyone in the room agree with them?
What shocks me is not that the United States has used torture. We’ve done that for years. We taught half of South America how to do it even better at a certain infamous school in Georgia.
What stuns me is that we are no longer ashamed of it. In the past, any time even a hint of this found the light of day, we backpedaled like crazy.
Not this time. This time, when George Tenet asked for a memo to cover his patootie . . .
Someone actually wrote the memo. Someone actually said that torture was okay, and put it into writing. 35 years ago, my first NCOIC wouldn’t even commit to writing his mildly excessive pressure in asking me for a date. But waterboarding is okay, and that’s in black and white on a piece of White House stationery.
John McCain, the man who publicly fought against torture, later quietly voted for it. He is one of the two nominees for President we must vote on in about three weeks. How could this have happened?
Can we come back from this? Can we ever again be the country that I loved and served with pride and honor?
I don’t know. You tell me.
I am sick at heart tonight.