Monday, January 24, 2005

HERE'S ANOTHER WAY TO THINK about asking if a particular interrogation practice is torture. Let's take "waterboarding" -- which is strapping a prisoner to a board and submerging the tied-down prisoner under water, thus making him believe he is being drowned. Waterboarding is often done over and over in one torture session -- ooops, make that one "extreme interrogation practice" session -- and yes, it does actually sometimes result in the prisoner really and truly drowning. When Condi Rice was asked if she considered waterboarding to be torture, however, she refused to answer, saying that it was up to the Department of Justice to decide if waterboarding or any specific interrogation practice is torture.

I guess Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales aren't with me on this, but it seems to me that it's unseemly to split hairs over whether tying someone to a board and making him think he is being drowned is torture, as opposed to some other practice that inflicts severe suffering, pain, or both. It misses the point about torture. The prohibition against torture is not like the prohibition against cheating on your taxes, or padding your expense account. Trying to slide physical and psychological abuse past the laws against torture is not the same as padding your expense account. The moral and ethical context of torture is different in kind, not just in degree, from the moral and ethical context of taxes or expense accounts.

I think that when it comes to something as fundamental to human dignity as the right not to be tortured, we should follow the reasoning behind those bumper stickers that say, "If you're close enough to read this, you're too damn close!"

If you have to argue and debate and hire attorneys to do legal research in order to figure out whether a particular interrogation practice is torture, then it IS torture; or, if you still want to say it's not, it's too damn close to torture to pass muster.


Anonymous said...

for the simple fact that you're an american; i want to disagree with you. yet, i cannot. this is probably the most sane thing i have heard from an american in my whole life. keeping in mind i usually only hear from your celebrities and politicians on screen. it's too bad that your opinion dosn't seem like an american opinion to the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the compliment. I assure you I *am* an American; and I also assure you I am not the only American with these opinions. There are quite a few; on an issue like torture, I think the people who share my opinion may even be the majority. But they are not covered by the U.S. media very well, and they are not in the Bush administration.

You always have to remember that a country's government is not the same as its people. Half of America voted against Bush. That should tell you something. And a lot more voted against Bush whose votes were not counted. Have you read about what happened in Ohio, for example?

I'm happy my blog is being read, and I appreciate your comments.

Chief said...

Good Monday Morning. Found you via a comment on a Kevin Drum posting. Here are two other points in this argument: 1. If/when some of 'our' people are captured, how do we expect them to be treated. If we can torture/kill than 'they' can torture/kill. And to them, they do not care if one of 'us' is actually in the military or a civilian working for a contractor, a civilian working for the US government or a tourist.

2. What democratic values are we trying to export to the rest of the world.

Lest anyone accuse me of being a 'librul' coward, I spent 21 years in the US Navy including 35 months in combat.


Kathy said...

Hi, Chief. Good Monday morning to you, too. Your two additional points are well-taken; and in fact, one of senators on the Foreign Relations Committee asked Condi Rice that very question (your first point). I can't remember which senator it was now, but he asked her what if our enemies see the way we are treating their detainees and decide to torture our people? You know what her answer was? "U.S. soldiers are not terrorists." In other words, no one is going to torture our guys because they are the good guys. Sounds incredibly naive, but in truth I think it's incredibly cynical. Of course Condi Rice and everyone else at the top levels of the Bush admin know that using torture on detainees encourages our enemies to torture Americans; but as another reader of this blog pointed out to me, she (and they) don't care. It's a risk they're willing to take. They've already showed us they don't care about the troops' welfare; why should they start now?

As far as your second point -- what kind of an example are we setting of democracy -- I've made that argument many times. The argument I hear most often is that we have to play tough and use some unsavory methods because we are dealing with people who don't care about democracy. The point, of course (at least to me) is that it's not the people doing the terrorism that we need to convince or serve as a model for -- it's the millions of people who are not involved with terrorism and can still be influenced to see democratic values as the better way. They see the suicide bombings and kidnappings on one side; and America torturing prisoners on the other, and why should they think we are the better way to go?

Anyway, thanks for reading my blog, and for posting a comment.