Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Tell Them Torture's Not Right for Us
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   09/29/2006)

Al-Libi. Al-Libi. Al-Libi.

It isn't that hard to say. Try it.

Then, if you oppose torture, shout that name from the rooftops. It's important.

Our government forced a man by that name to tell a pack of lies that brought about the deaths of tens of thousands in Iraq. Ask your Congressmen and media to look into it. For al-Libi is living proof that torture and other degrading practices can backfire badly.

George W. Bush and company bombed and invaded Iraq based in large part on lies told by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. Why are opponents of torture so lame, so slow, in making this point?

Is it because they were taken in by Al-Libi's lies and would rather gloss over that sad fact of history than to make it part of their argument against the President's proposed torture and detainment bill debated this week in Congress? Is it because they've become so fearful of being called disloyal or soft on terrorism? Whatever fig leaf they're hiding behind, the record is clear that al-Libi was under custody of U.S. secret forces in 2001 when the CIA blindfolded him, duct-taped him, loaded him onto an airplane, told him they planned to rape his mother while he was away, then flew him off to Egypt.

Interrogators in a secret hell-hole prison there asked al-Libi none too gently to “admit” that Saddam Hussein was teaching al-Qaeda to make chemical and biological weapons. According to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Newsweek and others, Al-Libi gave them what they wanted. Later he recanted, and said he told the lies to end the pain of torture. A Republican dominated Senate Intelligence committee has confirmed al-Libi's later statements that no formal ties existed between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and further reported that, far from working together to attack U.S. interests, Saddam and bin Laden regarded each other as enemies. Still, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and others in “the Iraq group”--a team set up inside the White House in 2002 to sell America on the idea of invading Iraq--made al-Libi's lies a centerpiece of their case. Just how aware Bush was that he based his war on a pack of lies should be looked into.

In February, 2003, Colin Powell repeated al-Libi's torture-induced lies to the United Nations. Maybe that's why a repentant Powell wrote a letter recently stating that we risk losing the moral high ground in our so-called war on terror. Tens of thousands have died in Iraq at least in part as a result of lies our government forced al-Libi to tell. Now we're stuck In Iraq like a wasp in a spider web. We've blown at least $400 billion—about $10 billion unaccounted for--that might've done much good. That's how well torture works. And that's not counting the hatred and violence inspired by torture conducted at Abu Ghraib.

Yes, many loudly parrot unproven claims based on “classified information,” that we've disrupted terrorist plots through use of “aggressive interrogation techniques.” Some even point to the Battle of Algiers, in the late 1950s, which France was loosing badly, by some accounts, until it employed torture, mass bombing and other counter-terrorism techniques. What proponents of such a model often leave out is how a disgusted and angry populace rose up across Algeria and turned their French leash-holders out of the country by 1962.

In simple human terms, what the French failed to do, and what Bush long ago forgot, is to honor the logic and moral force behind the Golden Rule. When you think about it, that simple rule, “Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you,” is at the heart of the Geneva Accords. Maybe it's too much to expect our president and members of Congress—most of whom loudly proclaim their Christianity--to honor the Golden Rule. Still, I challenge you to pause a moment and consider the logic and moral force of that nearly universal law of world religions.

As a dear friend said to me on Monday, it's the simplest rule of all. If observed by all, it could break the cycle of violence everywhere, and the beauty of it is that such a possibility rests with decisions we all make every day.

Several of those opposed to torture and denial of habeas corpus and other rights our troops have fought and died for since the founding of this nation, made subtle allusions to the Golden Rule during live debates this week in Congress. I heard more than one point out that we must arrive at standards of prisoner treatment that take into account how we'd want our own troops to be treated if captured by the enemy. So, unless you want torture to become and remain the law of the land, you'd best plan on spending lots of time telling anyone who'll listen—maybe your congressmen, senators, media and more—that there's a price to pay for Congress's big show of public support for Bush's plans for continued torture and unlawful imprisonment. It could be your neighbor's son or daughter who gets captured in the next war, now so close at hand.

More later.