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.

1 comment:

Robert said...

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