Who are we, anyway?

The nation’s highest-ranking legal officer would not say that waterboarding is torture.

America, our country, is a really big idea, or has been one to this point. A nation of laws, guided by principle rather than ethnicity, has been a matter for some pride. We have been the good guys, an example for the world. Apparently, we are choosing to be something else now. We are a country that tortures people.

Maybe you have heard about the interrogation technique known as “waterboarding.” Agents working in our name use it on foreign detainees. The general idea is to force enough water into a subject’s lungs that they start to drown, but stop the procedure before they actually die.

Michael Mukasey became the United States attorney general last Thursday night. He is now the highest ranking legal officer in our nation of laws, and he would not say, when questioned by U.S. senators, that waterboarding is torture. He wouldn’t call it cruel or inhumane treatment either, or state that it is illegal. After Mukasey testified to his lack of legal opinion on waterboarding, he was confirmed by the Senate, which was executing its constitutional duty to provide advice and consent to the President on his nominees.

Explaining his vote to confirm, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told us that if both houses of congress should pass a bill against waterboarding, and the same president whose administration uses and defends the practice should sign the bill into law, the new attorney general would then make sure that this president would not defy said law.

Never mind how divorced from reality that scenario is. Cruel and unusual punishment is already prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution has, to this point, been held as the supreme law of the land. Schumer now seems to suggest that the Constitution can be disregarded, unless congress passes a law making illegal what the Constitution already disallows.

With the confirmation of a U.S. attorney general who cannot bring himself to say that this country does not simulate the drowning of people in order to terrorize them, the decision has been made that the United States is no longer anything special or admirable.

We torture people. We ignore the Geneva Conventions, which now seem to have been written with us in mind. We disregard the rights and dignity of individuals in our custody whenever it suits us. When need arises, we ignore our own Constitution. All of this is done, of course, in the name of defending ourselves in a global war that began in September of 2001. The worry, now, is that if we remain on this course, we will have nothing left worth defending.

Jim Emery is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]