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When Will Our Consciences Become Tender?

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By Alex Gangitano on August 30, 2011

“Why was it okay for us to use what most people would say is torture against terror suspects?”
“Remember first of all, those are not American citizens…” –former Vice President Dick Cheney

August 30, 2011 is the release day of Dick Cheney’s memoir In My Time.

Matt Lauer on Tuesday morning interviewed Cheney on The Today Show and asked him some pressing questions regarding his opinion on torture. Lauer begins by quoting Cheney’s memoir:

“In your book you state bluntly you have no regrets about being in favor in things like waterboarding… you write quote: The interrogation program ‘was safe, legal, and effective. It provided intelligence that enables us to prevent attacks and save American lives’, In My Time p363… if an American citizen were be to taken into captivity in Iran for example and the government of Iran were to look at that person and say we think you’re a spy for the U.S. or you’re here to carry out a covert operation, would it be okay for the Iranian government to waterboard that American citizen?”

The response to this question is no surprise to me, but admittedly difficult to hear. Cheney answers, “Well, we would probably object to it.” Lauer asks further, “On the grounds that it’s torture?,” to which Cheney responds, “On the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens and we do everything we can to protect our citizens…”

I am an American citizen, but I find no conflict with being a humanitarian and being an American. I believe strongly in protecting our citizens. I lived through 9/11, I know the pain of watching the death rates of our people on television. But I find something extremely wrong with completely separating the importance of the life of an American from the life of a global citizen. While we share this country with other Americans, we share this earth with the global community.

This morning CBS reported that 66 people were killed in August, making it the deadliest month of the war in Afghanistan for US troops. I find it very ironic that the same morning of this release Cheney is speaking on the importance of first and foremost protecting our citizens.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady of an extraordinary president, and an extraordinary American and leader in herself, once questioned, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” The greatest part about this quote is that she says “human misery,” not “American misery.” While Roosevelt was in fact an American in favor of protecting our citizens, she notices that humanity involves our entire global community, not just the people in this country.

According to Roosevelt, it takes a tender conscience to want to prevent human misery. While she questioned the timeliness of the tenderness of our consciences some 50 years ago, I continue to wonder the same thing today.

You can follow Alex Gangitano on Twitter at @alexgangitano.

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