In our approach to the Fourth of July, The Salt Lake Tribune sees a disconnect between the American ideals celebrated on Independence Day and the American practices that have been authorized through US torture policy. In its Friday editorial, the Tribune cited Broken Laws, Broken Lives in the paper’s assessment of America’s significant departure from its own stated values. 

Last week also brought a new report by the group Physicians for Human Rights based on in-depth interviews and mental and physical evaluations of 11 detainees held for long periods in U.S. custody and then released without charge. The smorgasbord of cruelties visited upon these unfortunates included beatings, isolation, sleep deprivation, electric shocks, “stress positions,” threats of execution, forced nudity and sexual humiliation.    

Indeed, U.S. torture techniques are virtually indistinguishable from those favored by the Soviet secret police under Josef Stalin. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago, wrote that interrogators extracted ludicrous “confessions” from millions who had committed no crime. They, like U.S. detainees, endured temperature extremes, standing or squatting for prolonged periods, forced nakedness, deafening noise, bright lights, threats, isolation and sleep deprivation. 

In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev described the results: “How is it possible that a person confesses to crimes which he has not committed? Only in one way - because of applications of physical methods of pressuring him, tortures, bringing him to a state of unconsciousness, depriving him of his judgment, taking away his human dignity. In this manner were ‘confessions’ acquired.” 

The administration’s torture regime was revealed in early 2004 when photos of abused detainees held at Abu Ghraib were posted on the Internet. Predictably, 13 official investigations concluded that the episodes were the unauthorized work of lower-ranking soldiers. Then, as now, President Bush maintained that the United States does not torture, which, given what we know now, is a distinction without a difference. 

Retired Army Gen. Antonio Taguba, who headed a 2004 investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, in remarks accompanying the physicians’ study, wrote that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” 

As we mark our nation’s birthday, perhaps we should think about the America we, through our inattention, have come to be. And vow to restore the ideals of the America we once knew, and still have it in us to be.

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