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Lott: Conscience and the rule of law should prevail in torture debate
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The lessons to be learned from the U.S. practice of torture by the Bush-Cheney administration are basically threefold:

1) The U.S. is either a country based on the "rule of law," or it's not; 2) Conscience has always been and will continue to be a higher law than government, whether we like it or not; 3) We are being hypocritical and irresponsible when moral and ethical responsibilities toward critical issues are abdicated, and then act horrified, innocent and blaming when our behavior turns out to be repugnant or unacceptable. Too many Americans live in this great illusion that when bad things happens to us, it automatically means that we are all good and have no deeper lessons to learn from them.

What is so troubling for any rational, moral person about the so-called "enhanced interrogations" methods is that nearly eight years after the horrific acts of 9/11, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his right-wing supporters continue to fiercely defend and justify this contemptible practice. The more they do so, more revelations are revealed to form a clearer picture about what happened.

This ugly picture just won't disappear and only a full, complete, unbiased and nonpartisan investigation and justice will move us forward. If we are truly a country of laws, this would certainly be the case to prove it, given our new politics.

In the meanwhile, there is no doubt that this practice has eroded whatever moral ground America had in the world, not to mention its unintended marketing recruitment for more deadly fighters in the Middle East. It is claimed that such techniques were used to gain vital information which "saved lives." But such arguments are riveted with contradictions and the evidence doesn't support them.

The intelligence of Americans was grossly underestimated by the previous administration. For example, most people are not so naive to believe that given the commitment of terrorist suicide bombers who look forward to dying for their causes, most information resulting from interrogations — regardless of the methods used — is reliable.

We now know from credible sources in "the field" that the best intelligence from the "War on Terror" has come from good old-fashioned police work. Even Sen. John McCain will not dispute this fact.

It doesn't take a political genius to figure out that such repugnant practice is so strongly defended by the former vice president because, apart from violating international law, obstructive to upholding American ideals and values, it was also exploited for political gain.

We must not forget the heavy atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the White House and the entire nation during the years following 9/11. Fear-mongering became status quo, which made it easier to implement the "Bush Agenda."

We looked away as the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution were altered to justify a crime and satisfy our ego needs for revenge and winning. In other words, conscience took a back seat because no one, including members of Congress wanted to appear unpatriotic or "soft" on terrorists. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for those who now protest that they were unaware of the details of these interrogation methods after they disregarded their moral and spiritual responsibilities to act when it was appropriate.

The lesson we so desperately need to learn from these experiences, is that any entity, especially government, in and of itself, has no heart or soul or conscience. This is why they can be so dangerous even with the best intentions. The price of winning, whether it's a war or being number one in whatever field or endeavor, means nothing if it means sacrificing our souls, hearts or conscience.

Jane Mayer said it best: "It is clear that what began on 9/11, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country's soul."

We have reached a critical point in human history where it's no longer sustainable to allow our fears and insecurities to dominate our minds, or be manipulated by zealots. This is our most subtle and dangerous enemy and the consequences of our failure to address it is nothing new.

The hard but just truth is that we are free to choose to continue looking away when stuff happens, but the universe or God never looks away. It does not take sides. If we act like the terrorists, we get no special treatment just because we are Americans. Everything we think and do comes back to us, and if not to us now, then our children later.

Either we live by the principles and values we hold sacred, or they are nothing.

Harold Lott is a Gainesville resident and occasional columnist.