Filed under: Human Rights and Torture
Just over a month ago, as I noted at the time, I obnoxiously followed Sens. John McCain, Amy Klobuchar, and Lindsey Graham around as they walked through the Hoa Lo Museum here, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”, listening to McCain tell stories. McCain talked about being locked in a 3×6 foot sweatbox called “Calcutta” for months at a time. He didn’t repeat many of the more brutal stories on that visit, but obviously most Americans know by now how McCain says he was tortured: denied medical treatment for his broken limbs for several days to coerce him into revealing military information or “confessing” to war crimes; later, beaten and forced to sit on a stool in a stress position for days; placed in solitary confinement for months at a time, all as forms of extrajudicial punishment and coercion.
The thing is, I have no idea what Lindsey Graham thought he was looking at in the Hanoi Hilton. Judging by the things he said yesterday in the Senate, by his lights, pretty much everything that went on in the Hanoi Hilton was justified. After all, Hanoi was under attack by enemy forces. Vietnamese civilians were dying. These were captured enemy officers who might possess crucial information that could save the lives of Vietnamese women and children. In such emergency circumstances, who wouldn’t torture them? Is it surprising that the Vietnamese decided they couldn’t afford the nicety of the law? As for the Vietnamese lawyers who argued that US officers weren’t covered under the Geneva Conventions because the US had not declared war on North Vietnam, that the pilots should thus be considered “air pirates” and had no rights — were these opinions really so despicable? Surely the Vietnamese lawyers wrote them in the belief that they would help save Vietnamese lives. It’s easy to look back with 20/20 hindsight and rail about “torture” and “war crimes”, but in light of the situation as it was in 1967-68, with bombs falling on Hanoi, can we really say that those Vietnamese interrogators weren’t right to torture John McCain?
That, at least, appears to be Lindsey Graham’s position. Sorry, Senator McCain? Did you wish to say something?
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