Please, Someone Explain Why Torture isn’t Morally Reprehensible if for American Security


For a myriad of reasons – whether its simply a misguided obsession with safety and national security or going so far as involving a dangerous level of xenophobia coupled with bloated American exceptionalism arrogance – Republicans overwhelmingly support torture. Or, at least (and arguably worse), they deny that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were even torture when we did them and that they were morally justified because of how “evil” the enemies are.

Brian Michael Jenkins has been studying terrorism since back when its perpetrators were called “urban guerrillas.”  He’s sought out for guidance by politicians on both sides of the political divide.  And Jenkins down for an incredible interview with LA Times’ Patt Morrison which is well worth your time to read.  Just an excerpt:

I don’t think torture belongs in the American arsenal. I think torture is illegal, is immoral, but I would go further and argue that it doesn’t work. These silly scenarios [in which] the terrorist knows where the bomb is that’s about to go off in 30 minutes — that’s not reality. Further, you have to judge what you get in information versus the strategic loss that you take when it is revealed, as it will be inevitably, that a country is employing torture…

Finally, you take into account that [using torture] changes the nature of our own society, and that is a tremendous cost.

Let’s break that down into ideas that everyone can understand:

  1. Homeland Security isn’t run by Jack Bauer
  2. Legalizing torture taints our collective moral fiber

Just the other day on Facebook I got into a discussion about George W. Bush’s new book Decision Points where someone said that he was “glad to see him so content.”  It evolved from there to the point where the same commenter ended up defending torture, saying: “I don’t fault him for a natural disaster [Hurricane Katrina] or using techniques on 3 top terror suspects to gain insightful information to save lives.”

To that I ask:

What insightful information?

What lives were saved?

The false narrative in people’s minds about how torture actually worked is debunked by the reality of what happens when these tortured terror suspects go to trial:

A federal jury in New York yesterday returned a guilty verdict against accused Terrorist Ahmed Ghailani on one count of conspiracy to blow up a government building, a crime which entails a sentence of 20 years to life, but acquitted him on more than 280 charges of murder and conspiracy relating to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Last month, the federal judge presiding over the case, Lewis Kaplan, banned the testimony of a key witness because the Government under George Bush and Dick Cheney learned of his identity not through legal means but instead by torturing Ghailani.

I cannot understand the defense of torture.  That mentality must come from an out-of-control fear combined with an unfortunate misunderstanding and conflation of torture and justice causing a warped moral view.  What’s the most troubling is that moral view then considers itself to be the moral authority, trumping all other viewpoints.

But what makes us different than the Khmer Rouge?  Even if the people we torture are truly evil, while the Khmer Rouge were torturing some not truly evil people, don’t you realize that the morality of torture isn’t dependent on the quality of the person being tortured? If we’re so much better than the people we’re torturing, we wouldn’t be torturing them in the first place — not because they’re not bad people, but because we’re not bad people.

Unless we are.

But I don’t think we are.  We deal with serial killers, murderers, rapists, child molesters and all sorts of homegrown reprehensible creatures without resorting to torture. And until 9/11 and the absurd outrage against all Muslims as being inherently un-American, we didn’t torture our own terrorists: we didn’t waterboard Timothy McVeigh and we gave him the death penalty and caught his co-conspirators.  See also: Bomber, Una.

So, please, someone who disagrees with me, explain why:

  • Torture is necessary and acceptable in prosecuting terror suspects.
  • In defending our nation against those who want to destroy it with violence, it’s okay to destroy our own nation through the voluntary abolishing of our own civil protections.
  • The notion of smaller government only pertains to programs that help Americans but not when it means unprecedented power to spy on and torture Americans.


(H/T The Daily Dish)

Image courtesy of shalawesome’s Flickr Photostream.


One comment

  1. I’m just thankful that information obtained through torture still gets rejected in our legal system (as in the above examples). This reassures me that no matter what certain pentagon brass or executives “feel” is right, our judicial ethos still protects the principles this country was founded on.

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