Daily Archives: September 16, 2006

The Moment I’ve Been Waiting For (Plus, A Pragmatic Argument Against Torture)

Finally, Congress starts to grow a spine, with a some Senators standing up to the Bush administration’s underhanded attempts to make torture the law of the land.

I’ve been waiting a while for Congress to deal a good defeat to the executive branch.

Not that I wanted Bush in particular to be slapped, just to see the executive branch have its power curbed.

And this couldn’t be a better issue.

We’re fighting a multiple-front war. Certain people get enraged that we’re losing the propaganda war, but then they endorse torture. Even the most heinous serial killers, rapists, and the like, are subject to the 8th amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment.

I know terrorists are disgusting people, but we must prove that we are better than them. We don’t need to endorse torture to stop another 9/11. Because that goes right into the recruiting handbooks of al-Qaeda. Torturing an innocent Muslim moderate (and if you think everyone in Guantanamo is guilty, then you’re vastly mistaken) is a great propaganda tool for al-Qaeda. It makes it harder to win the War on Terror.

The so-called ticking time bomb scenario is a joke. It only happens in the movies. The terrorists are maniacs. They don’t care about blowing themselves up. Do you honestly think in the ticking time bomb scenario, they will crack before the bomb blows up? Isn’t it easy for them to give you the wrong information? By the time you check, the bomb has already gone off somewhere else.

The advocates of torture paint a false dilemma. Either we torture, or 9/11 will happen again. It’s not so.

We can make it vastly harder for terrorists to succeed without resorting to torture. Doesn’t it make sense to secure leftover nuclear material before it gets into enemy hands instead of torturing someone who already set a bomb? Because that guy probably won’t tell you where the bomb is.

Analyze the trade-offs. We need other countries’ cooperation in order to find terrorists. The more we abandon our moral principles, the more we lose the propaganda front in the war, the less those countries cooperate with us. We need those countries to cooperate with us in securing nuclear materials. Thus, it becomes more likely that we will be attacked again.

Analyze the trade-offs. If you give the president discretion on who to torture and who to not torture, how do you know when his high-level detainees aren’t so high-level? Well, you can’t, since it’s a secret. What happens when a different president is in office and he starts shipping off American citizens for secret interrogations on charges of “terror”? Don’t think it can happen? Law enforcement agencies are already using the Patriot Act for things unrelated to terror. You don’t think once you give the executive branch the leeway to torture, it won’t be used on non-terrorists? The slope is more slippery than you think.

Analyze the trade-offs. In fact, a lot of times, torture doesn’t work at all. You get a lot of wrong information. The time we spend analyzing those false leads could be spent better elsewhere. We miss opportunities to nab real terrorists. The nation becomes less safe.

Moreover, some of this information we already got without torturing anyone. From the Slate article Tainted Fruit, “There is already evidence that President Bush either exaggerated or misspoke with respect to that torture evidence. He claimed that harsh interrogation of one of the CIA’s detainees led to the identification and capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in part by revealing that his nickname was ‘Mukhtar.’ But according to intelligence officials, the government paid an informant $25 million for the tip that led to Mohammed’s arrest, and the CIA knew Mohammed’s nickname even before 9/11.”

The threats to our own freedom and our moral standing in the world are not worth the trade-off for a highly unlikely hypothetical ticking time-bomb scenario. I’d rather take real, concrete steps towards security.