There may be no more sobering comment on the times we’re living in than the ongoing debate about torture. As in two sides. As in: Wasn’t there a time when torture would have been about as suitable a topic for “debate” as pedophilia? Or the Holocaust? Or Jim Crow laws? Can there really be a “pro” position?
Would that those days were still with us.
Having said that, however, it’s necessary to say this. Let’s dispense with all of the euphemisms, circumlocutions and disingenuous parsing about outsourcing. In a war sans civilizational rules on one side, the United States would be derelict to permit the ultimate immorality: a horrific, World Trade Towers-dwarfing, mass-casualty attack without using every means of deterrence in its arsenal. Including, alas and as a last resort, the “T” word.
If “water-boarding” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the nefarious brains behind 9/11, can prevent future acts of mass terror – and it arguably already has – then so be it. And so, do it. Let Mohammed take one for our team. And let’s not bother to torture the lexicon with some “aggressive interrogation” newspeak. Whatever it pragmatically takes to save the innocent. The ends are that important.
And, no, this is not immoral equivalency, unless Mohammed’s dunk tank is equated with heinously barbaric mass murder. This is not stooping to “their level” unless humiliation is equated with videoed beheadings. And this is not rationalized vengeance. This is defending yourself, your loved ones and everybody else’s loved ones from the heretofore unthinkable by using all the non-nuclear means at your disposal.
While the United States shouldn’t proffer a policy that precludes expedience to save lives, neither can it countenance the rogue messes we’ve seen. Abu Ghraib is a grim reminder of what can happen when an ill-prepared army of occupation lets loose a bunch of untrained losers on captives.
We’re also reminded that there are generic — often dragneted — captives – and then there are real intelligence targets. And the latter still requires an approach that is sophisticated – not sadistic. The unconscionable irony of Abu Ghraib is that no lives were going to be saved because Lynndie England had a new leash on life. But American lives were surely forfeited because Abu Ghraib turned into an Islamic recruiting coup.
One final point: Bona fide intelligence targets do not deserve the legitimacy that Geneva Convention protections would confer. Not unless the rationale is that terrorists posing as ambulance drivers and police officers are POWs.