Friday, May 15, 2009


There is an awful lot of discussion going on these days regarding the appropriateness or inappropriateness of waterboarding and whether those involved should be prosecuted.

Let me give my short answer and then I'll discuss the issue a bit...

Waterboarding is torture and as such it is never acceptable under any circumstances. All of those who were involved should be prosecuted and it should not be only at the lowest levels. If those higher in the Bush administration approved or ordered those "techniques," they should be prosecuted as well... all of the way up to the president if the trail leads that far.

Yesterday, I was listening to the Dennis Miller show on the radio and he had an exchange with a listener who said whaterboarding is wrong. Miller castigated the values of the listener saying something to the effect of, "you'd probably say that if it was a choice between 100's dying in a building that was attacked vs. waterboarding one known terrorist to get the information to stop the attack, that you'd have the innocent die. I don't want to live in that world. Do what you must do to get the information to save the innocent."

At the most simple level, I would say, "yes, let the attack happen if we must cease to be who we claim to be in order to stop it." But the simplest level is more than a little over simplified. It assumes that there is no other way to get the information and that torture works. Neither of these assumptions are accurate. All of the studies show that torture does not give accurate information. Those being tortured will say anything to stop the pain... and they do. Good police work and good intellegence efforts provide much more accurate and helpful information. But, let's allow thse two assumptions for a moment. Miller's argument begs us to follow his path to its logical conclusions as well... let me do that.

Let's assume we have chatter that an attack is imminent and we have in custody a terrorist who we are 100% positive has the information needed to stop the attack. (again, assumptions that are never accurate but for sake of argument...) So we waterboard the prisoner and he gives no helpful information. We know that waterboarding doesn't always give immediate information or those prisoners who were waterboarded would not have suffered the "technique" hundreds of times. So it becomes clear that the needed answers are not forthcoming. With Miller's argument, we would go the next step. After all, we are dealing with a clearly guilty person and trying to save the lives of 100's of innocents. So do we pull out fingernails? Or cut off fingers? Or electrocute? And then wat if the information still isn't forthcoming? We know the attack is coming and are sure he has the information we need to stop it. Do we bring the prisoner's wife in and rape her in front of him? Or do we begin to cut his 9 year old son's fingers off, one by one? After all, we are dealing with a known terrorist and we are trying to save the lives of 100's of innocents? What is the comparison between the family of one known terrorist killer and the lives of innocents? And so the argument goes to its logical conclusion... Do whatever it takes to get the information. The end justifes the means.

The question is where do we draw the line? The Bush administration tried to draw a line. Waterboarding is OK so many times. Slaming a head against a wall with X force in this way is OK but doing Y is not. Miller's arguent clearly leads to a conclusion that there is no line as long as the end can be construed as noble. I argue that there is a line that stands independent of the end and the line is clear in the law and in international treaties. No torture, ever, and waterboarding is torture.

There are those who argue that because the terrorists kill children, cut off heads, etc. that a little torture is not a problem. I refuse to allow terrorists to define for me what is right and wrong. I refuse to allow them to give me justification to break the clear laws of this country and the treaties we have signed in the past. I think America is and needs to be better than that. If we change who we are in response to their evil, then we have already lost the battle.

1 comment:

That Baptist Ain't Right said...

Torture is wrong. It is immoral. It is illegal. We don't do it. It makes us no better than the people we claim to abhor.