Friday, February 10, 2006

This Really Bothers Me

At the end of an approving post about Pres. Bush's address yesterday detailing how the Bush administration foiled a plot to crash a plane into a Los Angeles skyscraper, John at Powerline pulls out this line from Bush's speech:

Their plot was derailed in early 2002 when a Southeast Asian nation arrested a key al Qaeda operative. Subsequent debriefings and other intelligence operations made clear the intended target, and how al Qaeda hoped to execute it.

...and then tosses out this throwaway line:

I'm just guessing that the "subsequent debriefings" didn't involve hiring a lawyer for the terrorist and asking him, pretty please, to reveal the plot.

...implying, of course, that the al Qaeda operative was tortured into revealing the target of the planned attack, and exactly how it was going to be carried out.

It's hard to know where to begin, but let's start with the dishonesty.

John "guesses" -- his own word -- that a plot to fly a hijacked plane into Los Angeles's Liberty Tower was discovered and prevented because one of the key suspects was tortured. He then uses this "guess" -- which is based on nothing, absolutely nothing, that is in Bush's speech -- as proof not only that torture produces actionable intelligence, but that, in an actual, real-life terrorist plot, torture is what stopped the plot from being carried out.

Then there is the absolutist thinking: If the people interrogating this Al Qaeda operative did not "ask him, pretty please, to reveal the plot," that means they tortured him? These are the only two choices available when questioning a suspect? Pleading or torturing? If that's true, then we have to conclude that every criminal investigation in the United States uses torture to get confessions from suspects and from everyone who might have important information about the crime. Whether one considers this likely or not, I doubt John at Powerline would think it likely.

Plus, is it credible to suppose that, as ferociously as the Bush administration has been fighting to unbind itself from international bans against torture, and given Cheney's and Bush's repeated insistence that they need the flexibility to use "harsh interrogation methods" (they never call it torture, of course) in case they need to stop a specific impending terrorist attack on U.S. soil, is it likely that Pres. Bush would have missed the opportunity to trumpet the use of such methods in a speech about an actual, real "ticking time bomb" scenario, if torture had been instrumental in preventing it?

1 comment:

Random Goblin said...

I just don't understand how we can actually try to justify invading a country because of the way their leader tortures people, and then say that we also should be able to torture?

How is it morally okay to torture anyone, ever?

One could make the argument that practicality demands we take a more pragmatic approach and that means we have to do bad things in our own self-interest sometimes.

That would be a debatable point, but at least one with a leg to stand on.

But instead, we try to frame the "War on Terror" into an absolute moral framework- we are the forces of good fighting against the forces of evil.

But if we use torture, then what makes us better than our enemies?

And if we are not better than our enemies, then we can't try to claim that what we're doing has any kind of moral imperative.