Justifying Torture

A recent Senate study revealed that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the C.I.A. on al Qaeda did not produce measurable benefits in the war on terror. As a story explains, at the start, (Reuters) – A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs.

Official sources insist upon using the euphemism for “torture,” which means they don’t want to call a spade a spade. It sounds better if we refer to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, not to mention making people crouch or stretch in stressful positions and slamming detainees against a flexible wall, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some people call this “torture.” Our country chooses elaborate euphemisms. Welcome to “Newspeak.” In any event, whatever we call them, this committee has determined that they didn’t produce any benefits in the war on terror.

There are a number of interesting implications here. To begin with, that argument implies that  if there had been benefits, that is American lives had been saved or bin Laden had been captured or killed as a result of these measures (as Dick Cheney insisted at the time), it would have been justified. The end justifies the means., Machiavelli would be proud.

A second implication is that American lives are more valuable than non-American lives. All persons do not have equal moral value. This is a very serious implication, since it flies in the face of one of the very few sound moral precepts that underlies the fabric of this nation and allows us, from time to time, to claim the “moral high ground.” We can no longer do that if we insist that the lives of Americans are superior to the lives of other people. If all persons are not morally equal, then many, if not all, of the moral “advances” that have been made in recent years — equal rights of all persons regardless of race, color, gender, or creed; laws against discrimination; extension of suffrage, etc. — fall by the wayside.

I honestly do not see how we can morally justify torture, even if we call it something else. It most assuredly defies the Geneva Convention which was supposed to inject some semblance of morality in wartime — if such a thing is possible. Articles 13 to 16, for example, state that prisoners of war must be treated humanely without any adverse discrimination and that their medical needs must be met. But it also lowers us to the level of the people we fight against who also refuse to acknowledge that all persons are morally equal and none can be claimed to have moral privileges. That is the axiom that has been tested in the fires of the war on terrorism and has failed. That is a serious matter indeed.

The one bright note in this dark story is the comment by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who noted that the lack of evidence that torture benefitted this country in its war on terror is not really the issue.  Only days after the commando raid in which bin Laden was killed, Feinstein told journalists: “I happen to know a good deal about how those interrogations were conducted, and, in my view, nothing justifies the kind of procedures that were used.” She was right. Nothing justifies them.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s