Condoning Torture Moves Us
In a recent e-mail discussion concerning torture, a long time friend offered a defense of torture as a necessary means of acquiring vital information needed to prevent the destruction of lives via terrorist acts. My reply:
The defense of torture that you offered in your previous e-mail, it seems to me, is one appropriate for a 30 second political attack ad or a bumper sticker slogan. But it is not a defense that corresponds to reality. Your defense of torture sounds to me like a takeoff of the TV program, “24” : our hero, Jack, stiffs the interrogation rules demanded by his soft headed bosses, uses “harsh” torture-type questioning methods strictly forbidden by those soft headed bosses, and at the last minute before the end of the TV allotted program time, finds out the crucial information that saves the day. You are saying that you want the government to have authority to torture a detainee -- when a detainee has vital information. But you're not dealing with the larger question: how many detainees may need to be tortured before the government finds the one detainee that has the vital information?
I can see the 30 second attack ad that your justification would produce: Jack saves the day because he has the guts to torture. Democrats are slime because they are soft headed and oppose taking the tough actions needed to defeat terrorism. Did you catch the recent comment by the Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner? He said: "I listen to my Democrat friends, and I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people." (The more I read this comment, the more I am amazed.)
It would be impossible to have a torture policy based on the notion that only those with vital knowledge will be tortured. Isn't that the purpose of much torture -- to find out if, in fact, the detainee has vital knowledge? Bush and Co are seeking authority to pursue an effective torture policy, not an ineffective policy. Before the Supreme Court intervened, the administration was operating on the premise that they had authority to take this position: "We will torture, if and when we feel like it, for whatever reasons that we deem sufficient, and we will never be required to justify our practices." Republican leadership seem to be betting that Americans will support a carte blanche torture approval.
The slope to totalitarianism is greased by selfish interests. People support the move to totalitarianism when they support totalitarian measures. Americans are being urged to support totalitarian measures with the promise that these totalitarian measures will assure personal safety. Americans are being urged to give into a view that says, "I don't care what my government does -- so long as it makes me safe." In this war on terrorism, our government has treated non-Americans detainees to secret prisons, incarcerated detainees with no judicial review, sought to have trials in which the detainees could not review evidence against him, and tortured. The administration is betting that Americans will support these actions, because these actions promise to make them safe. But, these actions stoop so low that, as Colin Powell says, we are losing our moral basis for fighting terrorism. And I am wondering if by agreeing to stoop so low, that, as a society, we are agreeing to a slide towards totalitarianism.
We have declared a never ending war on terror -- and our war on terror is producing more terror, more terrorists, which, in turn, has made us increase our war on terror. We've seemingly created a perpetual terror and war producing machine. And propelled by this engine of terror, what is the next logical cycle in this process? What about the threat of American grown terrorists? Should we allow the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to hamper our government from taking effective action against American terrorists, or those who might be terrorists, or those who might encourage terrorists, or those who might know a terrorist, etc.?
The war on terrorism, it seems to me, if it continues to escalate, will eventually cause an assault on our Constitution and our Bill of rights. We may start by not caring how non-Americans are treated in this war on terror, by not caring if the Geneva Conventions are trashed -- because we only care about our own safety. But if concern for our own safety is the determining factor, then it is not hard to imagine the next step -- not caring how Americans accused of terrorist connections are treated, and not caring how much growth in totalitarian power is accrued to the government. And those who do care will be slimed. I can almost hear John Boehner say: "I wonder if these people, who say they are protecting the Constitution, are really more interested in protecting the terrorists than in protecting the American people."
It seems logical to me that this never ending war on terror, unless we find better strategies, will lead to a growing movement to reinterpret, to eviscerate, the Bill of Rights -- as, similarly, Bush sought to destroy the Geneva Conventions. And if Bush and his ilk get to appoint one or two more Supreme Court judges -- such reinterpretations of our Constitution, should they be pursued by those in power, could very well have judicial approval. It seems clear: If we do not find a better way to answer the terrorist threat, then the war on terror will cost us all very dearly.