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November 14, 2005

the torture debate

I must give credit where credit is due. Tonight I had an almost epiphanic realization on the use of torture by the U.S. to gain information vital to national security.

The US Senate voted 90-9 early last month to attach an amendment authored by Republican Senator John McCain to a defense-spending bill that would prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of detainees in US custody.

I am a big fan of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and tonight’s episode had Senator John McCain as a guest. Stewart briefly mentioned the Senator’s captivity and abuse in Hanoi but McCain’s focus was on his bill to prevent torture. McCain made a point that made me step back and reconsider my stance on pro-torture.

First, I must clarify that I think torture, however you want to interpret it, should be able to be a tool to gain information that could prevent harm or death to others, more specifically, administered to terrorists. The Geneva Convention already has a law in place to protect POW’s. The back of my military ID says Geneva Convention Category 2, which I assume translates to a chart that my captors would have taped to their wall in the interrogation room.

McCain’s amendment extends that courtesy to “detainees in US custody”. Let me see, where do we have detainees in US custody?

The Senator from AZ commented on a parallel between the use torture and the State of Israel. Specifically, Israel does not use torture and it passed a law in 1999 prohibiting its use. McCain goes on to say that if Israel can refrain from torture, given the environment they live in where terrorists attack them daily, then why can’t the US?

Stewart then brought up that torture only works on TV and in the movies. It seemed like a good argument but, as I always do when I run into a conflicting opinion, I decided to check some of the facts from the interview.

I was surprised to see the amount of returns I got when I did a google search for “Israel torture ban”. To my surprise I found a lot of articles to the contrary. I thought that this claim seemed a little Pollyanna-ish. That’s like saying rappers have united to strike the “N” word from all their music.

In reference to torture not being effective except in Hollywood I would also have to disagree. Although McCain is a testament to the strength and resiliency of POW’s not all POW’s are the same. And now I must step back and use some proper terminology. You see, the GC reserves humane treatment for POW’s and terrorists do not fall under that category of wartime prisoners. Perhaps we haven’t been attacked in 4 years because of the techniques we are using to extract information?

The more I thought about it the more pissed off I got at the Senator. I can hear the rebuttals now:

“If we use torture we are no better than the terrorists”
Wrong. This is an argument meant to divert thinking away from protecting ourselves and turn it towards a pseudo-moralistic code or even worse, to instill an almost insane sense of guilt. Are we to be no better than the person who is executed for raping and killing a 10-year old girl? Of course we are. Imposing or enforcing capitol punishment does not put that person on the same level as the person who is being executed.

“We have an image to uphold to the rest of the world and using torture tarnishes that image.”
Why should we give a shit? Seriouysly, how many countries help us when our asses are handed to us? The help we give the world is grossly out of proportion to the help we receive.

Show me a moral objection in the use of torture for self-defense. People are quick to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in the name of self-defense. Why do people get so bent when it is used to safeguard our nation? I addressed this issue in a previous blog post so I will let that horse lie.

If torture is used, however, for crying out loud people leave the cameras at home.


  1. Well, I don't know if McCain made this point on the show or not, but while debating on the floor of the Senate he commented, "It's not about who they are, it's about who we are." Justifying a "whatever goes" behavior as long as it is deemed less barbaric than the tactics of the enemy is setting a reprehensibly low bar. For a person to say, "Hey, we're still better than Osama bin Laden" shows they don't have a moral compass, but rather a moral weather vane.

    It might be true that intense interrogation techniques are valuable for obtaining information from recently captured suspects. That idea is hotly disputed by experts, however. What cannot be in dispute is that abuse of detainees in places like Guantanamo is absurd; they've been there for three years and counting -- what possible information could they have that would be current and useful?

    But even this discussion misses the point entirely. If we hope to export the pure, shining, hopeful beacon of democracy to troubled regions around the globe, then we have to do it by sticking to democracy's highest ideals. Torture is not one of them, no matter how useful the information might prove. In opposing stem cell research, the President went on record to say that no life should be harmed for the benefit of another. Would that he really believed that, and put it into practice.

  2. You use a lot of buzzwords and cliches I hear all the time about this issue- 'moral compass', 'at least we're better than OBL', etc. The bar you talk about, if you had your way, would be a cappaccino bar where we would sit around and ask the terrorists to "pretty please leave us alone?"

    You say the only way to ensure a democratic ideology is by "sticking to democracy's highest ideals". You will have to clarify that statement for me because history has shown our ideals have included some of the things I mentioned in my post about bringing and maintaining democracy to our nation.

    Torture is such an ugly word that encompasses so many things but most people have the notion that toture is all about thumbscrews and cigarette burns. Psychological "torture" works and is very effective.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that the prisoners have been there long enough. We need to shit or get off the pot with them. A frien dof mine who jsut returned form Gitmo after 6 months of physical security even agreed with that. He has some interesting stories but I will save those insights for another time.

  3. It's too bad that we have to resort to torture in order to gain information that "could prevent harm or death to others."
    Maybe it would be safe to say that Able Danger would have been as effective as torture in preventing something horrible from happening. Too bad our government totally disregarded it; so we'll never be able to prove it after every aspect of the operation will be politicized by both inept parties.
    I am sure some of the high ranking terrorists that we have caught came out of some of the "goings- on" in the interrogation room, so I am not able to really argue for or against the actual effectiveness of our “techniques” in extracting information. Although if Able Danger turns out to be a true story and not some political fabrication…there is the debate that once we do have useful intelligence we piss it away.
    It’s also hard to argue for a humanity cause when I have seen with my own eyes the videos of innocent people being beheaded by the people we are trying to capture through torture.
    The one thing I have a hard time accepting is your criticism of John McCain. The guy was an actual POW for seven years. McCain was tortured. I agree that McCain uses a weak parallel, but come on. McCain should have said, “I am against the torturing of prisoners because I used to be one, and it sucked!” Would that have held more weight?
    As far as your comment, “People are quick to lie, cheat, steal, and kill in the name of self-defense.” You are absolutely correct sir. That is how we ended up in Iraq in the first place.
    Anyway, I guess as far as principles are concerned, I have a soft spot for John McCain because like you and I, the guy served his country (Yeah, I know…so did that shit-box Kerry, but whatever). While Bush was failing as a businessman, pissing on himself at parties, and not showing up for National Guard duty, McCain was getting his ass literally kicked around by enemy combatants. He also doesn’t play party-politics. He is a man of real virtue…as far as I know, even if he does get emotional at times. I still don’t think he has cursed anyone out publicly though, like your boy Dick Cheney.

  4. SG, like I said before torture is such a dirty word and its meaning encompasses a broad range of tactics. Like I said earlier, I would not condone ripping out finger nails or smashing nut sacks with a wooden mallet.

    How about putting someone in a pair of shorts in a room with the A/C cranked up? Sleep depravation? Jedi mind tricks?

    These are forms of 'torture' and I don't see anything wrong with them.

    Please don't take my criticism of Mccain's newly added policy as a criticism of his patriotism. I too would think that he would be the poster boy for an anti-torture campaign but even he gave information after being subjected to the harsher methods of torture than what I support.

    And as well as you know me, SG, I think that is cheap shot associating my support for psychological torture as an link that head case Cheney. And as for Kerry, were you in the office during that eleection and listening to my rants about that shit stain?

    Mccain may not cuss pr=eople out but he has his share of press bullying:

    " . . . both in telephone conversations with reporters and on a live radio talk show, the Republican senator was far from calm. He was agitated. Angry. And the way he dealt with unpleasant questions was to bully the questioners . . . 'You're a liar,' McCain snapped Sept. 29 when an Arizona Republic reporter asked him about business ties between his wife, Cindy McCain, and Keating . . . 'That's the spouse's involvement, you idiot,' McCain sneered later in the same conversation. 'You do understand English, don't you?' ". . . Not content with just bullying reporters, McCain tried belittling them: 'It's up to you to find that out, kids.' . . . McCain wasn't talking to liars. He wasn't talking to juveniles. The senator was talking to two reporters." The Arizona Republic - October 17, 1989

    And while he may not cuss people out he has used racial slurs. Again, this by no way is a defense for Cheney, just chipping away at your virtuous Senator.

    "When Col. Bui Tin, a former Senior Colonel in the North Vietnamese Army (he had actually interrogated McCain and other U.S. prisoners) testified before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in 1992, McCain did not display that same "pit bull" inclination to attack as he did when the POW/MIA families and activists were testifiying.

    During a break in the hearing, Sen. McCain moved to where Col. Bui Tin was seated and warmly embraced him as if he were a long lost brother." US Veteran Dispatch

    It also seems he is an open border radical. Not something we need right now in my opinion.

    A month after the divorce from his first wife (who was seriously injred ina car accident when McCain was in Vietnam, McCain married Cindy Lou Hensley, heiress to Phoenix-based Hensley & Co., the nation's second-largest Anheuser-Busch distributor. Hmm, get a divorce and marry an heiress to foot election bills. Sound familiar? Although having experienced a divorce myslef I really can't hold this against the guy.

    I don't perceive my blog to be a forum to solve all the world's problems but I put this information on here as just that- information to do with what you will. The cool thing about blogs is that they are forums to vent or speak your mind. Since this is my forum I don't have to back anything I say up but the respect I have for you SG compels me to do so.