On this page are tools to help promote peace. An index will be provided as needed.
None of Us Were Like This Before:
11/19/11 - Journalist and author Joshua Phillips has written a book about torture entitled “None of Us Were Like This Before”. He delivered a lecture on 11/16 at the UW Tacoma campus, sponsored in part by VFP.
Lamenting the use of torture by American and allied forces in the “War on Terror”, Phillips wishes to promote deeper public discussion of the issue. He began his talk by referring to a recent Presidential debate in which Republican hopefuls promised to reinstate an official policy of torture. According to Phillips, public support for government-sanctioned torture has risen lately in the polls. Given this trend, he says, it is easy to see that a change in presidents or another 9-11 attack would likely result in a regression back to reinstatement.
Phillips discussed rationalizations used by torture apologists, who claim that torture is effective, that it has prevented terrorist attacks, and that its use by the US is limited. Phillips counters these claims on their own terms: Far from being an effective tool, torture is actually an impediment to intelligence gathering. It forces fake confessions, and destroys the trust between the intelligence community and the local populace. And there is no evidence to support the notion that a terrorist attack has been prevented through the use of torture.
The claim of limited US torture “use”, Phillips says, is a specious form of denial referring solely to the CIA waterboarding program, -- ignoring the widespread problem in the military forces.
Torture is employed by many governments, both despotic and democratic, but democracies, Phillips says, have learned to get away with torture by avoiding leaving marks and traces. His book, however, is not hypothetical, but a rigorous journalistic investigation incorporating testimony of involved soldiers and victims.
Several hundred incidents of torture involving US soldiers in the recent wars have been recorded, but Phillips’s research reveals a far bigger problem. Some of this activity was ordered by superiors, some encouraged or tolerated, and some in violation of regulations. The Bush administration’s non-compliance with Geneva accords. and other pro-torture memos, were a significant step toward loosening the taboo. But because of a leadership failure, US forces were already practicing torture before any of these authorizations.
As anyone can well imagine, the reasons for the spread of torture can vary considerably. In many cases, combat soldiers in the war zones were given responsibility of extracting “actionable” information from detainees, even though they had no training as interrogators. Detainees, not charged, were held under suspicion, often misinformed. Unrealistic deadlines were set for confessions, to extract information that didn’t exist, such as where the WMD’s were.
A lack of moral leadership in the command structure was a significant factor. Sometimes looking the other way was as harmful as giving explicit orders. “Soldiers didn’t need manuals or memos to lead them to torture,” says Philips. “US troops in Bagram tortured their prisoners in banal and crude ways, informed by myths and memory.” Motivation for torture can range from peer-pressure to anger (i.e. revenge for 9/11), and even boredom.
Witnesses who report on unsanctioned use of torture can expect to pay for their whistle-blowing. As an example, Phillips cites the case of the soldier who revealed the Abu Graib scandal: He was subject to subsequent death threats and had to be given a secret identity. This sent a powerful message out to anyone else inclined to come forward.
Soldiers involved in torture, Phillips says, typically are haunted by remorse and guilt which affects their mental health. Afraid to talk about their involvement, they have nowhere to turn, and are at high risk for depression, drug-addiction and suicide. Often, being able to talk about their experiences is therapeutic, but sometimes even that is not enough, as in the example of one soldier interviewed by Phillips who later took his own life.
In the lecture, Phillips preferred to confront the torture problem without widening the discussion to the overall evils of war. Some people in the audience seemed to disagree with this position. However, since many people who believe some wars, such as WWII, are justified, it is probably wise strategy to limit the focus to the issue of torture itself.
During the question-and-answer period, when Phillips stated that under the right circumstances, anyone could become a perpetrator, some in the audience took offence. But history has shown, from Nazi Germany through Vietnam and beyond, that ordinary people, in a paradigm of war or violence, can become involved in evil. This is the meaning of the soldier’s words that provided the title of the book.
War or Peace
Steven Leeper is from Illinois, and was Born in 1947. Since moving to Hiroshima in 1984, he has interpreted A-bomb survivor testimonies and translated many documents for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. In 2002, he started as North American Coordinator of Mayors for Peace. Having served as an executive advisor of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation since 2003, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation in April 2007.