Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Shining Testimony Against Torture

Here's an Op-Ed column I submitted to the Fayetteville Observer. It was published there on February 18, 2009. 

Anti-torture stand deserves recognition

By Chuck Fager


OK, so the Observer won a bunch of awards recently, from the North Carolina Press Association. Mostly seconds and thirds.
Congratulations, I guess.
But, if you ask me, the NCPA dropped the ball. They missed one at their rubber chicken confab. And it was a biggie.
A real biggie.
They forgot to hand the Observer the Special Citation for Editorial Courage and Excellence in the Fight to End Torture.
That’s one award the editors earned, in spades. It should be hanging on the office wall right now, in a big shiny frame, in front of God and everybody.
Why? Do the math: Since 2005, this newspaper has published 10 — count ’em — editorials denouncing torture in the now obsolete “war on terror.”
They have also printed a batch of anti-torture op-ed pieces, including two very powerful columns by Vietnam vet and military writer Joe Galloway, who knows what he’s talking about.
That makes a dozen, and there were more. (Full disclosure: I wrote a couple of
 the other op-ed pieces, so we won’t include them in the tally.)
How could the NCPA have missed out on recognizing this amazing record? Not only were the Observer’s editorials consistent, they were eloquent as heck.
Recall just a few of these headlines:

“Our View: The only good policy regarding torture is zero tolerance” (Sept. 29, 2005).
“Our View: Americans can win wars without becoming what they despise” (Sept. 17, 2006).
“Our View: It’s water torture, not an ‘enhanced technique’” (Feb. 12, 2008).
“Our View: ‘Abstinence only’ is the sole honorable torture policy” (April 18, 2008).

There’s lots more, but you get the idea.
This stunning achievement required more than mere eloquence and clear moral vision. In the America of working “the dark side, if you will,” sneering at the Geneva Convention, and “All Hail Jack Bauer, Superstar,” it took guts.
How lonely a stand was it? Well, for three years now, I’ve been making jaws drop on all my anti-torture activist buddies from the Triangle and other big cities, as I’ve shown them these clearly reasoned cris de couer, one after another, after another, after another.
You see, in those bigger, supposedly more sophisticated, cultured, and, well, “progressive” N.C. towns, the editorial voices against torture in their bigger, supposedly more sophisticated, etc., dailies have been mighty few and far between. One would think that for them, challenging torture was right up there with dissing NASCAR, basketball, barbecue and other timeless Tar Heel taboos.
So, maybe I can understand the NCPA’s reluctance to honor the Observer’s principled consistency; to do so would show up too many of their colleagues around the state as the moral midgets they’ve been on this issue. For years.
And besides, that’s all behind us now anyway, right? The New Order in Washington has declared torture off-limits, thank goodness. Let’s move on, folks — nothing to see here. Especially not that pesky “accountability” aspect that Joe Galloway wrote about so forcefully in these pages just weeks back.
So no citation for the Observer. Oh, well. Yet, there is one consolation: If their fellow editors haven’t been listening, maybe someone else has.
Come to think of it, those ringing declarations from the new White House resident about how America will no longer tolerate torture sound ed like they were cribbed from the editorial columns of a small-city daily in the Sandhills. If they weren’t, they sure could have been.
These echoes from the White House of what our paper has been saying for years ought to make local folks swell with pride.
And make a lot of other editors hang their heads in shame.
For that matter, maybe the NCPA isn’t the Observer’s last chance to get its props.
Hello, Pulitzer Prize jury? Take note.

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