Thomas Paine Weighs In On Torture

Ken AshfordHistory, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

GOP Congressman Peter King — the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee — had said this today regarding Eric Holder's decision to investigate whether laws were broken by the Bush administration's torture:

"It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on.  [It's' a] declaration of war against the CIA, and against common sense…"

Yeah.  Well, one can be "not on the side of terrorists" and still condemn the torture of suspected terrorists.

In fact, one should condemn torture if one is on the side of the law.  After all, the Supreme Court in Hamdan ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to all detainees, including accused Terrorists.  And the War Crimes Act makes it a felony to inflict "prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from . . . the threat of imminent death; or the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering. . . ." 

The acts mentioned in the IG Report faile the Geneva Conventions and our own War Crimes Act.  They therefore are crimes, period.  Crimes are technically "crimes against the state", so if one wants to overlook them (as King obviously does), then one wonders whose side he is on.

Just how much does King hate America?  Let's go to the wayback machine.  In his 1795 essay, which he entitled Dissertations on First Principles of Government, Thomas Paine wrote this as his last paragraph:

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Can that be any clearer?  The measure of our society is measured by how we treat our enemies.

Of course, Paine also wrote in Common Sense that "so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king" and "in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."  And in his Dissertations, he also wrote:

The executive is not invested with the power of deliberating whether it shall act or not; it has no discretionary authority in the case; for it can act no other thing than what the laws decree, and it is obliged to act conformably thereto. . . .

So, in what sense does breaking the law — the law of this country — amount to being pro-America?