We know them as “the Greatest Generation.” They were the men and women who overcame the Great Depression and endured the trials of a world war. They also produced one of humanity’s most significant accomplishments: the Geneva Conventions.
The Conventions were a response to the terrible cost of war and represented a significant effort to assert the value of human dignity. Ratified in 1949, the Conventions provide protections to both civilians and combatants in war – and perhaps most notably – absolutely prohibit the use of torture.
Donald Trump, the U.S. presidential candidate who wants to “make America great again,” is working hard to eviscerate these Conventions and reverse the greatest generation’s anti-torture legacy.
Trump has written op-eds clearly stating he would promote torture, if elected president of the United States. To hear him explain it, throwing away the Conventions would be a boon to the country’s national security. As Talking Points Memo reported, after the tragic June 28 bombing of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, Trump reiterated his longtime stance on torture. “We can’t do waterboarding but they can do chopping off heads, drowning people in steel cages, they can do whatever they want to do… You know, you have to fight fire with fire,” he said.
Fortunately, there are still those in positions of power who are willing to oppose Trump’s illogical premise. This week, over fifty retired generals and admirals joined the human rights organization, Human Rights First, to declare that torture should not be a weapon in the counter-terrorism arsenal. The letter’s signatories did not mention Trump by name, but they called on both the Republican and Democratic parties to include anti-torture provisions in their respective platforms ahead of the November elections.
The July 7th letter to the Republican National Committee read, in part:
We write to urge you to include in the 2016 Republican Party platform a plank unequivocally rejecting the use of torture and other official cruelty in the treatment of prisoners. This is not, and should not be, a partisan issue. Last year, Congress […] passed an amendment solidifying the ban on torture […]. Waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” are also prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and other sources of international law, and therefore are not lawful or appropriate to use in the fight against terrorism.
A Human Rights First press release dated June 30 also quoted a member of the U.S. military, retired Army Lieutenant General Charles Otstott, who condemned torture. “The use of torture has done immeasurable damage to our national security,” he said. “If we are really going to be tough on terrorism, we need to reject torture unequivocally. As someone who has dedicated his life to defending this nation, I know that torture makes Americans less safe.”
It is imperative that members of all political persuasions continue to challenge torture practices, whether peddled by Trump or someone else.