Thursday, February 7, 2008

Waterboarding Revisited

For those of you who haven't been paying attention to Senate Intelligence Committee hearings and the vile utterings of White House spokesman Tony Fratto, Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin sums it up pretty nicely when he writes:

We Tortured and We'd Do It Again
(link may require registration at the WP website...)

When it comes right down to it our elected leaders, and therefore we fellow Americans regardless of how we've voted in the past, torture human beings in the name of security. Further, the Executive branch of our government has unilaterally decided that torture is okay, so really it would be a waste of time to look into it. Move along, no war criminals to see here.

And then, we get the justifications for this abomination. The cowardly assertions that we only did it three times and it was for a good cause because look how much we learned are particularly hard to stomach. Fear has made us an ugly, ugly nation.

For the sake of argument, let's imagine that "intelligence" gained through torture can be trusted. It's a scary world out there, so maybe pick 1 lucky detainee to torture. And assume that this detainee gave up information that allowed you to take immediate action to save the lives of 25 people. Or of 250 people. Or of 2500 people. This is the fantasy scenario for people who think torture is a good idea. And so I ask you, gentle reader, how many lives an act of torture rates for you. Is it allowable if you could absolutely without a doubt save one life? How about one million? What if there was some doubt as to whether you would be saving those lives, or indeed any life at all?

In the real world, we know that torture does not produce reliable intelligence. It is on TV that immediate and complete information can be gleaned from one individual to prevent harm to others. TV isn't a great stand-in for real life. When it comes right down to it, there is no evidence that "enhanced interrogation" does anything but render its proponents and perpetrators criminals against humanity. Torture also spreads fear, discontent and malice.

That is an unthinkable price to pay for my opportunity to blissfully spend that special tax rebate. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were tortured so that millions of Americans could be free to acquire stupid mortgages that they couldn't pay for. Three human beings, no matter how nefarious and horrible, suffered torture so that frightened Americans can (insert stupid consumerist waste activity here) secure in the knowledge that someone somewhere is doing something about "the terrorists."

I have a problem with that.

The fact is, terrorists are an easy target. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to go running around after bad guys. And everyone feels like they've "done something" about a problem.

Well, feel free to apply some of that go-getum spirit to problems that plague humanity on a real scale.
Start with drunk driving which killed over 16 thousand people in the US in 2005
Want to think globally? What about the 2.1 million adults and kids who died of AIDS in 2007?
Too many? Okay, then let's talk about the 853 thousand kids under the age of five who die of malaria in a year.

Terrorists have so little impact compared to drunk drivers, and yet we don't have anybody advocating the waterboarding of drunks to find out who they drink with and when they might be expected to drive. The loss of several thousand people on one horrible day has people so frightened they'll do anything, anything to make it stop. Spread way more death out over a year and they drive to their favorite bar after work. I'm not nearly as afraid of terrorists as I am of stupid people. The difference is that I'm surrounded by teh stoopid so it begins to look normal.

So, when the elected leader of my country unashamedly promotes fear, ignorance and torture for all of the world to see I am sickened. And I'm going to do my level best to see those torturing torturers in front of a war crimes tribunal-the only place a just society has left for them.


Unknown said...

"How many need to be saved to justify torture" is a good question that highlights the problem.
You can also turn the question around, how many people would someone torture to save 1 (2,3...) person.
In the end if you start with torture the question is always when does it stop, so best not start with it in the first place.
But off-course waterboarding is not torture [sigh]

Peter said...

Lady Liberty doesn't confer her blessings for free. To preserve Liberty, sometimes you need to abduct, gag, waterboard, menace with dogs, and hook electrodes to her genitals. You have to be prepared to hold Liberty incognito without charge, sexually humiliate her, and possibly beat her to death and declare it an accident.