But yesterday, in our routine news meeting where we discuss as a group the subject of the day’s "Straight," the attention of all was on a story that appeared on Wednesday’s page 6, "Obama defends memo release during CIA visit." The topic of discussion, of course, was the ban by President Obama and his new CIA chief Leon Panetta on the use of techniques widely regarded as torture.
The reason U.S. policy, in particular the new policy, is so important to us is that our own struggle to rein in heinous practices in Turkey is directly related to the standards set in Washington. Like most newsrooms in Turkey, ours is intimately familiar with the topic. Torture as an instrument of state power has, in the past, been common in this country. Today, much progress has been made. But not enough. And as is the case in Washington, official attitudes are key.
One item that particularly drew our attention was the revelation in Washington that one al-Qaeda suspect, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammed, was "waterboarded" some 183 times in March 2003. By our math, that works out to 5.9 torture sessions a day. The question inevitably arose: What information was not forthcoming in the first 182 sessions that justified the 183rd?
It is perhaps helpful to note that a room of Turkish journalists shared collective shock in discussing the argument of former Vice President Dick Cheney, that revelation of such practices should be paired with release of the information extracted. The public, he said, should be able to judge whether such harsh tactics were warranted. Of course, valuable information results from torture. And nonsense and fabrications too. But Cheney’s logic is that of the Spanish Inquisition. It is deeply offensive.
The overriding fact, however, is that the work of so many activists, progressive law enforcement officers, lawyers and other leaders in contexts such as Turkey, is undermined when the world’s most powerful nation stoops to the atrocities of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. We may swallow hard and try to understand if Obama has no choice but to allow CIA torturers or torture-abetting lawyers to walk free in the course of this reform.
But minimally, the orders for these practices to be halted echo loudly among us. The message of Obama and Panetta to the torturers in America is a message to torturers everywhere. Torture has no place in states and societies that strive to respect the rule of law. It is barbarian. It must always be condemned.