Torture Debate Revisited

Typically I wouldn’t be revisiting a column subject less than a month after publication. But my comments on the topic of government torture brought enough of a response – of disagreement and disparagement – that I feel compelled to further clarification.

As I mentioned in that column of Nov. 30, I could never have conceived of a “debate” on the subject of torture. As if there were two legitimate sides. As if I would be aligned with the “pro-torture” position.

Was 9/11 a synonym for “anything goes”?

Some readers wondered if my morality were so facile that it could easily accommodate some ends justifying any means. That due process was no more than a speed bump on the road of expedience. That I had a Torquemada fantasy.

To reiterate. I think a government is derelict if it doesn’t use every tact, ploy and non-nuclear option in its arsenal to protect itself, i.e., to prevent a civilian-casualty atrocity that would dwarf 9/11 in mass-murder magnitude. Even if the Vatican disagrees.

If this sounds like selective morality or due-process hypocrisy, I’ll live with it. As will millions more. Literally.

And a corollary would be that contextual circumstances and common sense justify – and, indeed, demand – profiling. Might as well re-open that can of national security worms as well.

As to due process, per se, I don’t apologize for making self preservation a priority. However, it should go without saying that in regards to the treatment of prisoners and the “T” word, we must carve out very specific parameters and proscriptions.

That means legitimate, high-value, non-Geneva Convention-qualified targets. They’re not that hard to define. They’re the combatants sans uniforms and consciences who target non-combatants. They behead the innocent. And videotape it. On a moral scale, they couldn’t carry Tookie Williams’ dumb bells.

But their interrogators must be disinformation-deciphering professionals – not neo-Nazi losers or al-Qaeda counterparts. The approach must be sophisticated, not sadistic.

The rule of humane treatment for legitimate POWs doesn’t change. But neither does the rule of thumb that the Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds and his terrorist ilk might have to take one for our team. Might. Arguably, Mohammed’s “waterboarding” means has already served the end of saved lives.

In short, and after all is said, we don’t live life in the abstract.

And, yes, it would have helped immeasurably if we had had an Administration that didn’t divert troops from Afghanistan and the pursuit of Osama bin-Laden to the ill-advised, ill-managed invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now we’re saddled with the mother of all jihadist pep rallies – and many more problematic prisoners.

But that’s a different debate.

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