Friday, November 9, 2007

The Torture Never Stops

Various members of the extreme right are making statements that are even more foolish than those of various senators as they tried to hamstring Mukasey during his (mercifully concluded) confirmation hearings. The Anonymous Liberal has found a juicy one.

But A.L. goes on to assert that this is " of the clearest signs of the moral decay of the modern conservative movement..." I have some problems with that.

First, I apply a sort of Golden Rule on the torture question. I can imagine all kinds of violence being done to me. I'm sure I'd be a quivering hunk of protoplasm, but I can imagine enduring violence and recovering from it (assuming I were still alive, of course). But the idea of torture--especially being three-quarters drowned--I just don't think I'd be me any more. Even worse, after I'd told my captors everything they want to know, they of course wouldn't believe me and would do it again. And again.

So I'm all for defining waterboarding as torture and making it illegal.

But let's not kid ourselves. There are a some hard truths to be faced:

  1. It used to be that states were the only entities that were willing and able to kill thousands of people at a throw. That capability (and inclination) is now available to groups having only a handful of members. States were deterrable. Terrorists aren't. That's an historically new threat to which all societies must respond.

  2. A principal argument against torture is that the information so extracted is worthless. But in the "ticking bomb" scenario, you'll be willing to run the risk of lousy intelligence because you're desparate. Anything you get is immediately actionable, even if it's patently false.

  3. If there's a perceived immediate threat, you can beg for forgiveness or ask for permission, but if somebody is suspected of having information that can save thousands of lives, he's gonna get tortured.

I really don't see how this is a conservative or a liberal issue. You can either be in denial or you can face facts and then figure out how to preserve as much of your civilization as you can.

You could use a finding or a pardon to excuse torture in extreme emergencies. Personally, I'd rather have a statute and some congressional oversight--it's a lot more transparent and there are checks and balances.

Feel free to be repulsed--I am. Just don't be oblivious.

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