Tortured Logic

We are, many believe, engaged in an epic struggle against a barbaric enemy that wishes to destroy Western Civilization. It is critical that the U.S. fight back with all the means at our disposal. The enemy, of course, is radical Islam.

Now those, including President Bush, who say that we must use "all available means" don't really mean what they are saying. For example, the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons available. We know roughly where Osama bin Ladin is hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. The United States could, with the push of a few buttons, launch a dozen nuclear missiles and vaporize all the inhabitants of that area. Presto, no more Osama. This is one of the "available means" we have in the toolbox.

The President has chosen, quite wisely, not to use that particular tool because doing so would create a variety of other negative consequences even though the primary objective would have been achieved. So it seems clear that we are not really prepared to do "anything" in this struggle. There are lines which, so far at least, the United States is not prepared to cross.

Unfortunately, plenty of lesser boundaries have been crossed in the course of the current conflict. One of them is torture of prisoners. The president denies that the U.S. uses torture. When pressed, however, he reserves for himself the right to define what is and is not "torture." Given the creative way in which the prior president defined "sex" so that he could plausibly deny having it, I am not prepared to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in this matter - especially after I read this article in which he ostensibly forbids torture while simulaneously establishing loopholes a mile wide that will likely result in it becoming even more widespread.

Note that the article is written by a former Commandant of the Marine Corps as well as a former White House lawyer who has vigorously defended President Bush in other matters. These are not radical leftists or Bush-haters. They are people who care about the rule of law and the standing of America in the world. Read it.

I don't deny that our enemies are employing torture themselves. That does not make it right. We are not like them. One of the things that separates us from the jihadists is respect for life. Lowering our standards to match those of the enemy is not the path to victory. Quite the opposite. It will lead to our defeat.


Anonymous said...

A much more sensible point is made here:

At present, this is probably more of a propaganda issue than anything else. The CIA says that it has only 14 terrorists currently in custody. I've always thought, however, that waterboarding is the ideal interrogation method for terrorists. It is extraordinarily effective, and reportedly was the source of information obtained from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other key members of al Qaeda. Waterboarding is completely harmless, but is sufficiently frightening that it almost always works in a matter of minutes. It works by inducing terror, an appropriate means for obtaining information from a terrorist. If we are unwilling to use this humane but effective method of interrogation, even when lives may be at stake, we are not sufficiently serious about the threat we face from Islamic extremists.

Patrick said...

Thanks for the comment. A few thoughts in response:

1) The number of people upon whom an evil act is committed does not change the fact that it is evil. It may be 14, it may be 14,000. Either way it is wrong.

2) If waterboarding is really so benign and effective, why save it only for terrorists? Let the police use it on common criminals here at home. The IRS would probably find it particularly useful.

3) Waterboarding is, in fact, a type of "mock execution" which is specifically outlawed by the Geneva conventions. You could argue that maybe the U.S. should withdraw from Geneva; that would at least be logically consistent. To contend as GWB does that the United States can pick or choose which parts of international treaties it will follow and which it will ignore is a good way to ensure that no other nation will ever sign any agreement with the U.S about anything.

4) The one who is not "sufficiently serious" about the threats we face is the president who, almost 6 years after 9/11, still has not secured our borders, is only now getting around to increasing the size of our military forces, and under whom, according to the recent NIE, al Qaeda has grown more dangerous than ever.