Moral nation: Torturing captives is not the American way

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Historians will look back on the Bush years as either the beginning of America's Dark Ages or its end.

In conducting the war on terror, the administration of President Bush has not called upon "the better angels" of America's nature, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln. If anything, the nation has been encouraged to set aside previous moral convictions. Mr. Bush believes it makes more sense to mirror the ruthlessness of America's enemies than to honor the values that make us distinct from them.

According to this moral logic, a tough enemy requires the use of even tougher interrogation techniques. As long as al-Qaida remains in the shadows, qualms are a luxury Americans can't afford, according to Mr. Bush. This is the kind of reasoning that has led to outrages against human dignity throughout history.

What further proof is needed that U.S. moral development has plateaued -- and possibly regressed -- than the debate about the efficacy of waterboarding terrorist suspects?

Last week, the House of Representatives voted 222-199 to outlaw waterboarding by the CIA. The legislation rejects waterboarding as an interrogation tool. The majority of Democrats who voted for the ban are trying to impose the same rules on U.S. intelligence that govern the conduct of the Army.

The bill also bans "techniques" that employ mock executions, attack dogs, sexual humiliation, starvation and the withholding of medical care. As if to remind everyone of his medieval bona fides, Mr. Bush has promised to veto the bill if it wins Senate approval.

The men and woman competing to become the next president have an unenviable task ahead of them. Restoring America's good name won't be easy now that its spent moral authority puts it within spitting distance of regimes like North Korea and Saudi Arabia, which use torture.

Mr. Bush will veto the bill, but it's up to Americans to decide whether they're going to be a nation that embraces torture or one that holds to higher ideals.

Though this president is capable of holding two opposing thoughts at once without losing sleep, ordinary Americans don't have that ability. We need a leader who will chart a new path. Can the United States reclaim its place as a beacon of moral behavior, or will it follow Mr. Bush into the Dark Ages?


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