Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Torture and the moral high ground

Thanks to this Recommended Reading by Mark Evanier for sending me to A Tortured Debate by Molly Ivins. Actually, as of this writing, his link is missing, but it caused me to search it out.

There's a comment at the link I provided there by a dispicable coward who goes by the Internet handle "Frankster". He writes, "Would you torture one member of a group who kidnapped your child with the intent to sexually abuse, torture and murder your child for pleasure? If your only hope of saving your child from this fate is to torture the individual who knows where they are, would you take the ‘moral high ground’ and spare the kidnapper from pain, thereby allowing your child to suffer that horrific fate?"

I don't have children, but I have a large family and many people I love dearly and the answer is simple. Yes.

Doesn't the story go that the Lord sacrificed his only son for the moral high ground? 407,300 Americans sacrificed their lives in World War II for that moral high ground. Ok, once again there are other geopolitical complications. Fine. How about the 110,070 Union soldiers who sacrificed theirs for the moral high ground? Or the 217,000 colonists who died fighting for the moral high ground in the war for American Independence? Ok, those are still more complicated, but only by small degrees.

It's always more complicated.

That's not to say that the moral high ground isn't an important part of the equation. That's not to say the moral high ground isn't important enough to fight and die for. Without the moral high ground, all of those deaths stand in vain, glorifying only for politics and disputes of territory. I doubt the mothers of those young boys comforted themselves at night thinking how their sacrifice benefited territory and power disputes between rich and powerful men.

But the high ground isn't the only thing we sacrifice.

In response to "Frankster", "Steve" writes follow-up comment, "Easy way to dispell the ‘save the child torture scenario’: You have the wrong guy in custody, you torture him all day and night he tells you what you want to hear, admits he’s in on it but cannot tell you where your child is, no matter how you disfigure him, burn him, cut him, kill him. Then you find out he was innocent and your child is dead at another’s hand, and this innocent man is dead at yours."

In Torture's Long Shadow, Vladimir Bukovsky wrote, "Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery."

In Torture's Terrible Toll, John McCain, who has recently sacrificed the moral high ground as part of his lust for power, wrote, "Obviously, to defeat our enemies we need intelligence, but intelligence that is reliable. We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort. In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse. It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered."

I never could have imagined I'd live in an America where this is treated as a legitimate debate.

The pro-side appeals only to the weakest, most cowardly instincts we have. The anti-side has the moral authority of basic American values as well as the core values offered in the most Holy books of all major religions, but we also sacrifice our ability to accurately acquire information from those we interrogate! How in the hell is this even on the table? In the United States of America?

It's a shame. It's a goddamn shame on all of us!

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