Guantanamo and Torture: The Deterioration of American Ideals

By Derek Claytor

As a young eighteen-year-old Marine Private First Class on my first deployment, I was tasked with watching over two detainees suspected of terrorist activities as they were transferred from our forward operating base in Iraq to another location. With my fully loaded M16A2 rifle, I was instructed, “Make sure they don’t do anything stupid.” I was terrified and filled with a passion for vengeance. I wanted these scumbags brought to justice. I will never forget my desire to make them feel pain like I assumed they had done to my Marine brothers.

But I also knew that acting on these desires would be wrong. As a Marine and as an American, I knew such behavior was beneath me. I knew that such behavior was the weapon of the terrorists, and I am not a terrorist.

I deployed twice to Iraq with First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, first in 2007 and again in 2008-09. I am now a civilian, but continue to dedicate my professional work to upholding our constitutional ideals and protecting our homeland. These standards make America the great nation that it is.

Sometimes, though, we fall short.

The detention facility at Guantanamo is one such occasion. So long as the prison remains open, our reputation and our ideals remain tarnished. Gitmo has become a symbol of torture and mistreatment of detainees, and it needs to be closed. The global influence and credibility of our nation continues to deteriorate as a result of American hypocrisy. If we lose our sense of what it means to be an American in the process of eliminating terrorism, then the terrorists have succeeded in their goal of changing who we are as a country.

The very term “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a dishonest cop-out for Americans acting on the desire I felt – and resisted – when guarding those prisoners in Iraq. I, like many other Americans, wanted to inflict pain on detainees for the sake of revenge. But true, justifiable revenge is the ability to fight terrorists, to interrogate and prosecute detainees, while never sacrificing our ideals in the process.

What’s more, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence showed in their report on the CIA post-9/11 torture program, and as many retired military leaders and intelligence and interrogation professionals attest, such torturous “enhanced interrogation techniques” are in fact counterproductive and do not lead to reliable intelligence.

While torture will forever remain a stain on American history, we can (and must) learn from this mistake to protect the fundamental American ideals that make our country great: freedom, security, basic human rights, and the rule of law. Although the Senate recently passed an anti-torture amendment to the proposed National Defense Authorization Act, effectively codifying the President’s similar Executive Order, our official policy of torture following the September 11th attacks will forever be linked to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. And thus, Guantanamo must be shut down.

The newly appointed State Department Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure, Lee Wolosky, is tasked with leading the ongoing diplomatic engagement necessary for closing Guantanamo. I believe this means that President Obama is still serious about his legacy and fulfilling his promise to close the prison. Wolosky has a lot of work ahead of him. I applaud his willingness to take on the task and yearn for his success.

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Published on July 13, 2015

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