Torture was on trial last night at Andrews Hall.
Retired Army General Antonio Taguba spoke about the unlawful use of torture in American prisoner-of-war camps and, specifically, his experiences as head investigator of the infamous Iraqi prison, Abu Ghraib.
Taguba was born in Manila in 1950, and attended Ohio State University. He joined the U.S. Army after graduation.
In 1997, he became the second Filipino-American to become a U.S. Army general and spent 34 years in the U.S. Army. Taguba’s visit to the College coincides with Filipino-American History Month, and he was hosted by the Filipino-American Student Association.
Taguba openly criticized the decisions of the American government to authorize torture and blamed the Abu Ghraib scandal for endangering the lives of American soldiers.
“How can a few legal experts openly defy written laws, and compromise American values, and place our country at greater risk, especially our troops?” Taguba asked the crowd of about 70. He pointed out that over 4,200 American soldiers have died and more than 30,000 have been wounded in the Iraq War.
Taguba said torture is a violation of the Geneva Convention, which the United States signed, and various other international laws.
The violation of these laws, he said, resulted in a loss of international credibility and the destabilization of Iraq.
In other words, the pictures of the poor treatment of soldiers at Abu Ghraib made the United States look like occupiers and not liberators.
“The images of Abu Ghraib will continue to resonate in American history and in the Arab world,” Taguba said. “Abu Ghraib ignited an inflammatory situation in an already volatile region.”
Taguba added that it is hypocritical for the United States to announce that it is spreading democracy around the world even as it violates human rights.
“We have a human right issue. That issue is Guantanamo,” he said. “We do torture people.”
He said that it was important for the United States to maintain a common standard of human rights.
“We should not lower our moral standards to those of who we are fighting,” Taguba said. “Just because we fight a war, we do have rules of engagement, we do have laws, we do have a system that forbids us from mistreating prisoners.”
Taguba’s lecture also examined American foreign policy in southwest Asia in general. The general, clearly exasperated, said that if the nation’s leaders would study history they would see Middle Eastern cultures must be understood. He pointed out that other European powers have had similar experiences in the Middle East as the United States.
He also argued that the military has become more than just a mechanism of war.
“Our soldiers must also build what we destroy,” he said. “They have to be statesmen. They have to be diplomatic. They have to relate with the population.”
Taguba worked as chief of the official investigation into Abu Ghraib in 2004. He said one of the goals of the investigation was to protect the “99 percent” of the military that did not take part in human rights violations.
“We literally took a vow to find only facts and to assume nothing,” he said. When news of Abu Ghraib broke, Taguba was given the task to complete a report on the prison. He described what he saw at Abu Ghraib as a modern-day dungeon.
Taguba had a bleak outlook for the future of American foreign policy.
“We have reached a point where we are going to be in a state of consistent conflict,” Taguba said. But he added that he hopes whoever becomes the next president looks into diplomatic solutions.
“Diplomacy would be good,” he said.