Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 4:30 am | Mostly Cloudy 52º


Mark Shields: Obama Has Restored U.S. Standing in the World

Bush-Cheney administration torture policies did grave damage to America's image

In the blizzard of words and polls analyzing President Obama’s “First 100 Days” in office, one number in the latest USA Today-Gallup poll caught my attention.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

When asked what was “the best thing” Obama had done, the No. 1 answer given was improving the United States’ image in the world.

It is true. The November election of Obama, a black man without family fortune or connections, reaffirmed convincingly both the openness and the political equality of American democracy.

Like most human beings, Americans would rather be liked than disliked, and over the last eight years a lot more people around the globe have disliked, rather than liked, the United States, its attitude and its policies. Probably nothing has made others think less and Americans feel worse about the United States than the evidence that the U.S. government had authorized “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment of captured enemy combatants in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Let us resolve first any doubt over whether the United States does officially prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Yes, that explicit prohibition is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the binding Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the Senate after the urging of the president of the United States to “demonstrate unequivocally our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture.” Those were the words of President Ronald Reagan.

Yes, the United States has long recognized the illegality of waterboarding prisoners. After World War II in the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, the United States convicted several Japanese soldiers as criminals for waterboarding American prisoners of war. In 1968, a U.S. soldier involved in the waterboarding of a North Vietnamese prisoner was court-martialed.

What is most revealing about the continuing public debate over whether extra-legal or clearly illegal techniques of “enhanced interrogation” must be resorted to in order to stop terrorist attacks on America or Americans is the broad fault line between those Americans who are military combat veterans and those who, when they had the chance, preferred not to serve in the U.S. military.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who knows hourly the painful cost of combat, put it well last year in a debate with his primary opponents when he was the only Republican candidate to stand up against the torture of enemy combatants. Speaking of the Senate debate on the Detainee Treatment Act, McCain noted: “There was a sharp division between those who had served in the military and those who hadn’t. Virtually every senior officer, retired or active duty, starting with Colin Powell (Presidential Medal of Freedom winner), Gen. (John W.) Vessey (former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and everyone else agreed with my position that we should not torture people.”

Among the U.S. military leaders who opposed the Bush-Cheney administration’s authorization of torture were Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, former commander in chief U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and three men — former Air Force pilot and U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson, and two former Navy pilots, Cmdrs. Frederick Baldock and Philip Butler. These three men, among them, spent 21 tortured years and 78 days as POWs in North Vietnam.

All of these men have stood with McCain in his fight against torture when he said: “Our brave men and women in the field need clarity. America needs to show the world that the terrible photos and stories of prison abuse are a thing of the past. ... The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. It’s about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies, and we can never, never allow our enemies to take those values away.”

The American defense rests!

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.