Fuzzy Thinking About Torture

I like Patrick Buchanan and usually find myself agreeing with him on most political issues. His column this week about torture is therefore disappointing.

Buchanan first makes an eloquent case against torture:

Many contend that torture is inherently evil, morally outrageous and legally impermissible under both existing U.S. law and the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

Moreover, they argue, torture does not work.

Its harvest is hatred, deceptions and lies. And because it is cowardly and cruel, torture degrades those who do it, as well as those to whom it is done. It instills a spirit of revenge in its victims.

When the knowledge of torture is made public, as invariably it is, it besmirches America’s good name and serves as a recruiting poster for our enemies and a justification to use the same degrading methods on our men and women.

And it makes us no better than the Chinese communist brain-washers of the Korean War, the Japanese war criminals who tortured U.S. POWs and the jailers at the Hanoi Hilton who tortured Sen. John McCain.

Moreover, even if done in a few monitored cases, where it seems to be the only way to get immediate intelligence to save hundreds or thousands from imminent terror attack, down the chain of command they know it is being done. Thus, we get sadistic copycat conduct at Abu Ghraib by enlisted personnel to amuse themselves at midnight.

Unfortunately, Buchanan goes on to nullify everything he just said:

The morality of killing or inflicting severe pain depends, then, not only on the nature of the act, but on the circumstances and motive.

The Beltway Snipers deserved death sentences. The Navy Seal snipers who killed those three Somali pirates and saved Captain Richard Phillips deserve medals.

Consider now Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of 9-11, which sent 3,000 Americans to horrible deaths, and who was behind, if he did not do it himself, the beheading of Danny Pearl.

Even many opponents against torture will concede we have the same right to execute Khalid Mohammed as we did Timothy McVeigh. But if we have a right to kill him, do we have no moral right to waterboard him for 20 minutes to force him to reveal plans and al-Qaida accomplices to save thousands of American lives?

Where to begin? First of all, we execute people only when their guilt has been determined by due process of law. Buchanan seems prepared to allow torture with little or no regard for whether the prisoner actually possesses the desired information.

Second, prisoners, even those under a death sentence, are to be treated humanely right up to the moment of their execution. A little odd, yes, but we do this because we are a civilized people with respect for life. We take it only under the gravest circumstances and with much reluctance.

Third, there is a difference between killing someone in self-defense vs killing a prisoner who is under your control. The civil law makes this distinction very clear. Why it should be fuzzy to an intelligent man like Buchanan is unclear.

Mark Shea has an excellent new column about the morality of torture. More comments here.

We're Better Than This

I used to call myself a "conservative" in political matters. Now it appears I will have to give up that label. Why? Because I'm against torturing prisoners, a practice which is fast becoming a litmus test of true conservatism.

I would like to think that most conservatives would feel the same way if they would just get past their fear/anger and think about what they are saying. "Whatever it takes to protect Americans is ok with me" is a common feeling. Really? Whatever it takes?

Answer me this: Suppose the only way to get important information is to seize the young son of the suspect and crush his testicles? Not the suspect himself, mind you - I mean a child who has nothing to do with any crimes or terror. According to John Yoo, one of the Bush lawyers who wrote the recently-released torture memos, the president can do that and more. Is this really what you want to defend?

"But that's not what we're doing," you might say. Are you sure? According to Mr. Yoo, the Bush administration saw no legal impediments to it. And we now know that Bush, Cheney, and a whole host of lower officials lied about what they were doing to prisoners. What else did they allow that we don't know about yet?

"It's the only way we can get the info we need." Well, no, not according to an FBI agent who helped question Al Qaeda leaders and not according to the CIA Inspector General. Professional interrogators are near-unanimous about the uselessness of harsh techniques. It appears they were overruled by the political leadership.

The truth is that these "ticking bomb" scenarios everyone likes to talk about are nonexistent in the real world. They happen only on stupid TV shows like 24. Remember, too, that there is no way to be sure that the person you are interrogating possesses the information you seek.

For those who think torture is so hard to define, there is a simple solution. International law, all kinds of treaties and agreements, Catholic "Just War" doctrine, and the beliefs of just about every religion on the planet require that prisoners be treated humanely.

Now answer me this: if you put your prisoner through controlled drowning 183 times in a month, or you keep him naked in a cold cell for days on end, or you slam his head into a fake wall, or you put him in a box with insects, or you keep him awake for weeks at a time, are you treating him humanely? No, you're not. Still confused? You can always apply the Golden Rule. If it's torture when Al Qaeda does it to captured Americans, then it's also torture when we do it to them.

Shepherd Smith on Fox News said it very well, and is catching heat from his network's audience for it. "This is America. We do not (beep) torture." (The beep is an ugly word he should not have said on television. Video here.

Indeed, this is America. But we do torture. Or at least we did, and I'm not at all convinced that Obama will stop it from happening again. We're better than this! The fact that we don't do these things is what separates us from the people we are fighting! If we torture prisoners and ultimately prevail, what will we have become? Will the America that survives be the one we wanted to save?

I'm disgusted that so many people I respect are giving in to their fear and supporting this evil. And here is the worst part: evil never wins in the end. It turns around and bites the one who wields it. We're setting precedents that will come back to haunt us. Do not be surprised if someone you love finds himself on the waterboard. I give it ten years.

If I have to choose between 1) losing the war and 2) losing the war and losing my soul with it, I choose number one.

Make your choice now. Make the right one. Your eternity may depend on it.

Tea Party Madness

Today so-called "Tea Parties" are being held around the country, with extensive coverage (some would say cheerleading) by Fox News. While I am totally in favor of lower taxes and smaller government, I have to say I am perplexed by the sudden urgency.

First, let us recall that the purpose of the original Boston Tea Party was to protest "Taxation Without Representation." Is that what is happening now? No. Today we have freely elected representatives. You may not like what they are doing, but it is not at all the same situation faced by the early colonists.

Second, why all the surprise and outrage now? Obama and the Democrats are doing exactly what they said they would do before the election. We had an election just a few months ago and our side was soundly trounced. Whining about it won't change anything. It is just as likely to annoy the very people whose minds need to be changed if we want the next election to turn out any differently.

Third, where was all this energy when Republicans were the ones spending like crazy and running up huge deficits? George W. Bush is the one who plunged us into what is now the second-most expensive war in American history without the slightest thought about how to pay for it. It was a GOP-controlled Congress that helped him do it. It was also the Bush Administration that launched the bailout rocket. Does anyone really think much would be different had McCain won in November?

Fourth, exactly what is it we want to accomplish? As noted above, electing more Republicans brings no assurance of fiscal discipline. In fact, I have yet to hear anyone present a coherent plan for actually cutting the size of government. Which departments will you disband? Whose benefit check do you want to take away? What oxes are you willing to gore? Without such specifics, it is hard to take these protests seriously.

Given all this, the only thing I can conclude is that the Tea Party people are simply folks who want to be angry. I say this as somebody who is sympathetic to the spirit of these events, but I think folks are going about it all wrong. All this anger isn't going to accomplish anything.

The Tea Party protests are also revealing in another way. How many of the folks who are now up in arms that millionaires might see their taxes raised have ever attended a pro-life event? Are lower taxes more important than stopping the slaughter of innocent children? To quite a few people, the answer appears to be "Yes." Sad but true.

Christ is Risen

Let all Pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; he repays the deed and praises the effort.

Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness.

Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh.

When Isaiah foresaw all this, he cried out: "O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world." Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and lo! it discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.

O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

---Easter homily of St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407)

Celebrate His Death!

Why do we do this every year? Why do we celebrate betrayal, abandonment, and brutality. Why do we attend this Good Friday’s party of violence?

Our celebration of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday is as perverse an event as any we might conjure. Or, it would be if we were to settle for watching from the crowd, coolly watching events as they unfold. It is not enough to observe. Not enough to stand behind the crowd not caring. Our apathy, our lack of passion for Christ’s suffering and death for us, that will make today’s celebration truly perverse.

Rejoice then with each rip in His flesh. Rejoice with each drop of blood. Rejoice at the anguish of his betrayal, at the sting of his abandonment. Rejoice that He freely accepted this pain for you, instead of you. Rejoice! Or, cry. Or laugh. Or love Him more. But do not fall into the loneliness of not caring—that Pit is a Darkness older than humanity, and It is desperately hungry for your soul.

Read the rest.