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Conversation with a Compassionate Warrior

Although Lawrence Rockwood was commended as a Giraffe Hero over a decade ago, I had never met him until a recent evening in San Diego, the city where he has settled into a new life as a teacher of history. The event was a private dinner honoring the Project’s work and two Giraffe Heroes in particular, Azim Khamisa and Larry Rockwood.

We talked at length, just hours after the passing of the Military Commissions Act by the Senate, a shameful moment in US history and one that had stunning significance for this fourth-generation soldier.

As a former counterintelligence officer, Rockwood knows what works in interrogating prisoners. Torture—legalized by this astonishing vote—does not work. As a man of conscience and an historian, he also knows that legalizing torture is a low point in the history of this honorable country.

It’s been a given for centuries that tortured prisoners will say anything to stop the agony, that information extracted by torture is so tainted as to be worthless. And yet our legislative branch has just voted for and the president has signed new laws that make torture by Americans legal, in the name of protecting us.

It is now legal in America to imprison anyone the president deems to be aiding terrorists, without any need to tell such prisoners the charges against them, to know who has accused them or what legal recourses are available to them.

Given the long human history of abusing power, it is not cynicism to anticipate that people who simply disagree with this radical, out-of-control government’s actions are in grave danger.

Many who disagree with preemptive warfare, profligate spending and gutting the Constitution have already been accused of treason; it’s just one step from there to imprisoning them without charges and without recourse. Concerned, outspoken patriots, if declared to be aiding and abetting the enemy, have now lost all legal rights.

Americans. Us. The Good Guys. Citizens of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. We are now officially, legally, torturers. And we are not free. We now have lost the protections of the Bill of Rights. The respect for individual freedom that began with the Magna Carta is no longer operative in the United States. If a conquering army had imposed such a loss on us, we would be in open rebellion. (I don’t want to believe we’ve sunk so far into apathy that even then we’d pay no attention.)

But when our own “leaders” strip us of our rights, there’s barely a murmur. Instead, all eyes are on the repellant doings of one hypocritical Congressman, preying on powerless page boys. Sorry, but there are more important things going on, things that are unprecedented and deeply destructive of our precious republic. The Congressman’s form of abusing power is nothing new—the gutting of the Bill of Rights is earth-shaking.

Rockwood sees and understands it all. He remains a warrior, committed to the defense of his country and to championing human rights far and wide. As a David facing down the Goliath might of the entire US Army, he voiced the dilemma of the warrior of conscience, the one who knows his role is defending the weak, not steamrolling over them.

Rockwood should be on active duty in counter-intelligence, interrogating captives in this “war” on terrorists, separating those who have indeed taken part in actions against the innocent from those who have done nothing wrong. He should be getting reliable, usable information from those who actually have knowledge of terrorist plans.

But this man who could be trusted to do that difficult job well has no security clearance; he is barred from doing what he does best, just when we most need people like him.

To the concerned, outspoken patriot who writes here at this keyboard, it makes no damned sense at all.

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