“We Need To Find Our Moral Compass”

Morris Davis was, from 2005 to 2007, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions at the Guantanamo detention facility. He resigned from that post in 2007. Here is why:

As chief prosecutor for the military commissions, I personally approved the charges against some of the detainees now convicted of war crimes and I participated in discussions on potential charges against others like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. A phrase used repeatedly in detainee charges is “in violation of the law of war.” As a career military attorney, prosecuting those who violated the law of war was a duty I readily accepted. For nearly two years, I was a vocal supporter of the detention facility at Guantanamo and the military commissions. In June 2007, I published an op-ed entitled “The Guantanamo I Know,” where I defended the detention facility and the military commission process.

I instructed the prosecutors that we would not use information derived by waterboarding or any other technique that went too far, and for two years that policy was unchallenged. Then, in October 2007, I received a written order from Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England placing me under the command of Brigadier General Tom Hartmann and Defense Department General Counsel Jim Haynes. Hartmann disputed the policy I established arguing that “President Bush said we don’t torture, so what makes you think you have the authority to say we do?” He believed the information I had excluded should be introduced as evidence in detainee trials. Haynes was the architect of the memo former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed authorizing enhanced interrogation techniques, the memo on which Rumsfeld scribbled, “I stand 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?” I was summoned to the Pentagon and given a copy of the order. I went back to my office and drafted my resignation. Information obtained by extreme coercion – what most call torture – has no place as evidence in what purports to be an American military court of justice.

The central point of Davis’s article is that arguments about whether torture is effective or not effective have no place in our decision as a nation to torture or not to torture. The United States has to decide, once and for all, what it wants: Do we want to lecture other countries that fail to meet their obligations under international human rights protocols (as Hillary Clinton has been lecturing Syria recently for torturing and murdering political dissenters) while retaining the flexibility to decide unilaterally which international and domestic moral obligations we will practice and enforce ourselves? Or do we want the world to see that the United States consistently and conscientiously upholds, practices, and enforces our own moral obligations under domestic and international human rights protocols?

Davis has given us an important, and compellingly written, argument for why the United States should stop obfuscating about whether torture is still torture if it’s described in euphemistic language, and should not torture. Ever. Under any circumstances. Period. Go read it.

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