Veterans speak against torture: 'A higher law'

Submitted by Sarah Gonzales on November 17, 2005 - 2:41pm. :: |

by David F. Adams
SojoMail 11-16-2005 

I personally witnessed prisoner abuse during the Vietnam War, and by witnessing and remaining silent became a participant.

It was the summer of 1970. I was 22 years old, and on the downhill side of my 12-month tour at a combat support air base in Thailand where I served as an Air Force Security Police sentry dog handler. I trained and worked with German shepherds that would detect and attack sappers who breeched our perimeter. I was at that point in my enlistment where experience had become the greater teacher and it was about to give me a lesson that would last me the rest of my life. It was what the judges at Nuremberg called "a higher law."

Preparing to go to post with my dog for the early evening shift, we received word that the Thai police were bringing a suspected enemy who had breached the perimeter to the kennels for interrogation. As two Thai police officers, along with our squadron commander, led the handcuffed prisoner through the gate of the kennel grounds, I could see that by morning his face was going to be more the color of Merlot wine than its normal brown complexion. To say he had seen aggressive interrogation prior to his arrival at the kennels would be an understatement.

With his hands secured behind his back, the prisoner was laid down on the ground and a Thai guard we worked with gave his dog the attack command. The dog lunged, snapping his powerful jaws within inches of the man's face. What I saw next I would never forget. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back showing his throat to the dog, a dog that could rip it open in one powerful bite. The man's willingness to die before talking told me I was looking at my enemy. I also knew what I was witnessing was wrong. I knew, not because I had the codes of conduct and rules regarding treatment of prisoners engraved in my mind, but because the spiritual connection God creates within us spoke, telling me I was standing at the line between right and wrong. Even though I would not truly know God for nine more years, that spiritual connection, that "higher law," sent its warning signal.

When I saw the photos from Abu Ghrab prison, particularly those showing the use of dogs, I relieved that incident seared into my mind 35 years ago. Would I, a young 22-year-old airman, have had the courage to say no if ordered to terrorize the prisoner with my dog? I regret I cannot say clearly that I would have. It would have been a no-win situation of defying an order on the one hand, and living with ignoring the higher law that exceeds orders given by mere mortals.

Our elected leaders have the responsibility to ensure that those who serve in uniform are not placed in no-win positions that will cause them to compromise their integrity and spiritual connection to God. In this, our elected officials have failed miserably. The inhumane incidents at Abu Ghraib were not the sole action of a "few bad apple MPs," as President Bush has contended, they were the direct result of this nation's decision to turn its back on the Geneva Conventions.

If the McCain bill fails under the weight of pressure from the Bush administration, then we should end this nation's hypocrisy and remove the words "In God We Trust" from our currency and coins. The use of torture tells the world that our faith and goodness as a nation is but an empty can making meaningless noise.

David F. Adams wrote to SojoMail from Homewood, Illinois.

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