"Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren. ... Provide everything necessary for them on the road." So spoke George Washington of the 1000 Hessian captives he took at the Battle of Trenton. (Kennedy, Robert F.) This simple statement and the all that it entails in the matter of humane treatment of prisoners and human rights set the bar for American behavior during wartime. However, over the past several years America's leaders have used its military might to engage in an imperialistic campaign in which some very ugly precedents were established, and some of the better qualities of America and the manner in which we view the world were brought into question. Not only have the original requirements to implement a long term military action been altered, giving the Executive Branch far more power in this manner than was ever intended, but gray areas concerning the legalities of interrogation and imprisonment of P.O.W.'s have been altered, and precedent established as far back as World War II ignored completely.
During the Revolutionary War, Britain waged a fierce de-moralizing campaign against the Revolutionary troops. Starvation, beatings, and other heinous acts were par for the course when imprisoned, yet the leaders of the Revolution refused to reciprocate, instead choosing to treat their prisoners with respect and dignity. They felt that to do otherwise would not only set a bad example for future generations, but that it could harm the newborn country's standing in the world.
As the leader of the "Free World", recent leadership has lost sight of what is important to America, both our traditions and our ideals. We do not torture prisoners of war, due to our signing of the Geneva Convention that specifically prohibits it. Many will argue that the other side will not hesitate to treat our soldiers badly, and while this may be true, it does not give us the right to stoop to that level and begin committing atrocities against these individuals. I have been asked what if it was MY mother, father, brother or sister that died as a result of these methods not being used. Truly, that question can not be answered until actually experienced, yet I would feel better knowing that my government respected the value of human life over all else. The pain wouldn't be any less at the loss, but knowing that the right thing had been done would perhaps be a soothing balm for those wounds.
The problem I'm seeing with what occurred is the abrupt change in agenda, from Afghanistan to Iraq. The connection between Osama bin Laden and 9/11 was very clear, but the tenuous thread that was used to tie Iraq and Saddam Hussein to Weapons of Mass Destruction, and then to state sponsored terrorism was and still is a murky pit. Long after the invasion of Iraq and the capture of Saddam Hussein, one still has yet to see any real proof that these WMD's existed and Gen. Colin Powell, who originally sold the U.N. that Iraq had them, has since apologized and attributed the mistake to false intelligence.
Now that President Elect Obama has won the election, many news articles are circulating stating that President Bush, and V.P. Cheney have actually admitted, in taped interviews, to war crimes according to the Geneva Convention. While not phrased in that manner, when asked a direct question about their foreknowledge of certain programs such as the interrogation methods used to extract information from detainees, both men have readily admitted knowledge of techniques like water boarding being used. While Cheney has made it very clear that he does not feel these methods are considered torture, (Waterboarding: Interrogation or Torture?) there are cases in the past where the U.S. has prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding Americans, and a U.S. soldier was court-martialed for waterboarding a Vietnamese soldier.
Recently, the Senate Armed Services Committee has released a bi-partisan report that states Bush and others conveyed the message to their subordinates that humiliation and other more physical measures were appropriate towards prisoners at Abu Ghraib. (Shane, Scott) This report itself is classified, but the 29 page summary creates the most concrete timeline linking Rumsfeld and others to abusive treatment in the field. These policies were adopted when tests showed that water boarding was 100% effective in breaking the wills of soldiers. The most interesting and noteworthy point in this report is that when the Bush Administration made their attempt to blame this treatment on a few "bad apples", the Senate committee made it clear they felt that approach inappropriate, that a policy more along the lines of "The Buck Stops Here", with "here" being the desk of President George W. Bush, to be appropriate. It has also very explicitly rejected the administration's claims that these tactics have helped to keep the troops and country safe from harm.
There is a precedent that has been established by the use of the troops in first Afghanistan and then Iraq. According to the War Powers Resolution act of 1973, the President (Executive Branch) may deploy troops in "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces." The central tenet of the legislation prohibits the President from engaging the military for a period of more than 60 days without Congress voting and approving it.
Now, for my last point, I turn to the "War on Terror". While not necessarily illegal, this next part is by far the scariest bit of information I have encountered to date, simply because of what it entails for America, and our way of life. We are not at war. We have not been at war since World War II. According to the Constitution, originally a Declaration of War had to be supplied by Congress. In 1973 legislation was enacted that provided the Executive Branch with more leeway to deploy the military in so-called "Police Actions", in which the military can be deployed for up to 60 days without Congressional Approval. (War Powers Resolution Act of 1973) Upon trying to research and find out when Congressional approval had been granted for the deployment(s) in Afghanistan and Iraq, I spoke with a Colonel in the Department of Legislative affairs at the Department of Defense who informed me that is only relevant if and when the Executive Branch INVOKES the War Powers Act. (Hudson, Colonel Bill) Without invocation of this legislation, there is absolutely no need for Congress to vote on whether deployment is acceptable or not. Apparently, and I'm not 100% sure as the Colonel has promised to get pertinent documentation in the mail to me, but I've not received it yet, there was a meeting in which Congress voted to "Authorize the Use of Force" by the President. From the conversation with the Colonel, I gathered that this gives the Executive branch a blanket authority to deploy troops when, and as he sees fit, with the only Congressional control being over the purse strings. If you will remember back to December 2006, a hue and cry was raised because the newly elected Democratic Congress was sitting on a funding bill for the military and would not pass it in an attempt to rein in President Bush somewhat. Halting the funding for the military actions, however, did not do anything except hurt the troops and their families. President Bush was not affected in the least, and to the average American, wound up looking pretty good, with Congress seeming to be the bad guys. In these circumstances, Executive Branch power has far outstripped the original checks and balances that were supposed to be in place and this poses a serious threat to the way Americans live and the freedoms they enjoy.
A word of caution should be added, to those who have sought to divide the American people. The Declaration of Independence is very clearly worded so as to leave an opportunity for the citizenry to rise up against those in power when the situation becomes desperate, and when the powers-that-be seek "to reduce the American people under despotism". Those who seek to play with the fortunes of the American people should think twice, for we are free men and women. If one does not understand the importance, one could do research on the battle at Thermopylae and the forces led by Leonidas of Sparta, or the campaign led by William Wallace of Scotland against Great Britain. When a people have tasted freedom, it is not something that will be given up easily, nor lightly.
While not all things listed in this paper are Crimes against the Constitution, or even illegal by current laws in place today, it is obvious that the system has been manipulated to benefit a certain few, and to detract from the average American. The administration of George W. Bush has ignored the people, it has sought to divide them, and it has sought to turn us against ourselves. If we hope to be taken seriously as a world power once again, and regain our position as leader of the free world, we MUST hold the administration accountable for these actions. A critical juncture has been reached, and we are at the fork in the road that will determine the fate of America, and how history will remember us. Are we a country of enlightened thinkers, or are we a country that will allow ourselves to be manipulated and led by the nose, in exchange for so-called "Peace of Mind"? Only time will tell, and the decision of President-Elect Barack Obama on whether or not to prosecute the current administration for these and other atrocities.