Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thoughts on "Torture"

OK, I've tackled gay marriage. What about the other hot topic, "torture?" Or rather, should I say, "enhanced interrogation techniques?"

Let's start with a history lesson. The tension between America's principles and security has gone on for centuries. Woodrow Wilson, FDR, even Abraham Lincoln violated important principles we hold dear in wartime because they thought it was necessary to keep America and Americans safe. That doesn't make it OK, but it does mean that the Bush administration is not the first to ever make this faustian bargain. You could even argue that when America is scared economically, we likewise surrender liberties--for example in the New Deal and in today's big-government binge. Fear causes us to do dumb things, and then later we regret them.

All that said, there are a couple of points to be made. First, we don't WANT to regret today's actions later. And I think most people (although not all) would agree that, in general, we do not want to be a nation that tortures--not even if it "works."

For that reason, I think the argument voiced by some, "it doesn't work anyway," is not important at all. If it's just plain wrong, it shouldn't matter if it works. Or, conversely, if that's your only argument, and I can convince you the techniques are effective, your point should evaporate (and I doubt that's going to happen).

And I think we all (or most of us) agree that, except posssibly in the case of a ticking nuclear time bomb in a major city, we would NEVER want to resort to things that are definitely torture--mutilation, removing fingernails with pliers, electric shocks to genitals, or causing permanent physical harm of the sort that crippled John McCain.

The trick comes with such techniques as "waterboarding." It's psychologically freaky, but our own troops volunteer for it as part of their training (so they can learn to resist it). Supposedly it was used on only a very few high-level detainees, most notably 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammed, and resulted in a treasure trove of information on Al-Qaeda that may have even prevented an attack on LA.

I don't know if that rises to the level of what I'd personally call "torture." But I can understand the people who say, "if you're not sure where the line is, shouldn't we err on the side of basic human decency, and be the kind of culture that affirms our best principles and respects human rights?"

Here's the deal, though--why can't we say the EXACT SAME THING about abortion? If I say that waterboarding is a necessary evil that should be "safe, legal, and rare," I'm an inhuman monster. But if somebody else says the exact same thing about taking the lives of unborn babies, they are progressive and sophisticated. Sorry. I'm not buying. One day we MAY regret pouring water on the face of a terrorist. Or not. But I pray that one day we WILL look back on abortion like we do now on slavery--a relic of a day when we were uncivilized and barbaric.


Greg and Kim said...

I liked both of these posts, not only because they made a lot of good points, but because I've been wrestling with the idea of the intersection of Christianity and politics, and specifically, what should be a Christian's role in politics. I know what I don't like, but I'm having a harder time finding examples that I DO like. Voicing opinions like these, in the manner that you have, seems to me to be a good example of proper intersection. They don't hurt the Kingdom; they are in line with the teachings of Jesus; and they attempt as best as possible to speak the truth in love.
As you mentioned, I find it interesting how torture and abortion seem to be on opposite sides of the political fence. Can't we disagree with both? (And shouldn't we, as Christians?) In a lot of ways, political parties are just bizarre to me.

Coach Sal said...

Parties ARE bizarre. Like I've told you before, I'm a monarchist. And I definitely DO disapprove of torture (along with my oft-stated hatred of abortion). I am conflicted as to whether waterboarding crosses the line into genuine torture. But I'd say that abortion is closer still to the definition of infanticide. As I said in the gay marriage post, the fact that we do wrong in one area does not oblige us to be wrong in others just for the sake of consistency. But maybe pointing out these similarities shines a light on some double standards in our thinking. Thanks for reading!

happyathome said...

Sometimes it's hard for me to reconcile all the issues of today. I think it's a GREAT idea to hold on to God's principles, and then all the modern and cultural dilemmas we find ourselves in have an answer (somewhere). Experience just takes too long. By the time you have learned from it you are old, then you try to pass it on but who of the youth is listening? I sure wasn't. Principles, that's the key to unlocking the answers. Love the history. It really gives me some extra perspective.

bekster said...

This is only slightly related, but I think it is interesting...

I saw a Star Trek episode the other day (the original show) in which Kirk and his landing party came to a planet where the people had been fighting a war for 500 years... all electronically. The enemy would "bomb" a certain city on the map (similar to the game "Battleship"), with a computer keeping track of all of the people who would have died. Those people would then dutifully report to a chamber where they would be humanely killed. This system was put in place to keep the cultures of the enemy worlds alive. It was all very tidy, even though the people still had to die.

Kirk's argument against this system was that taking the "messy" blood, gore, and horror out of war only served to prolong it. He theorized that destroying the computers and death chambers--thereby breaking the treaty to carry out the war this way--would force the two worlds to work towards peace... because REAL warfare is scary enough to want to prevent it.

I don't like the idea of torture. In my gut I feel it is wrong. I also want war to be "safer" for those in the military on our side. However, I would hate for our higher technology and sophisticated culture to make war so clean that we no longer seek to avoid it.

BTW, What do you think about capital punishment? (Well, I think I already know what you think, but I'm curious if all of your commenters agree with you.)

Coach Sal said...

Just to clarify--I am deeply conflicted about waterboarding. I am 100% against torture, and if waterboarding IS torture, I'm against it. I have thought a lot about it, and read some great arguments on both sides, and I don't really know where I would draw the line. My point in the original post was not to defend it, but to point out that demonizing someone who draws a line in a gray area differently than yourself is profoundly uncool, and that the parallels with abortion are, to say the least, thought provoking. I do believe that the call for war crimes trials over the practice is profoundly bad.

As for capital punishment, I have no philosophical problem with it--it's a legitimate function of the state as defined in both the Old and New Testaments, and in the US Constitution. And some people (mass murderers, child rapists)just need killing, as a Texan might say. I do have some practical issues with it, though. Even the slightest possibility of using the ultimate punishment unjustly (like in the case of Sacco and Venzetti in the first red scare) raises serious questions about the practice. So color me a cautious supporter of capital punishment

Pete said...

Becky... how odd... I was watching the same episode online the other night... it struck me in very much the same way.

Security Word Verification:
The act of injecting meaningful silence into an argument or discussion. Derived from the compound of Silence & Syringe.
As Larry continued with his posts, the discussion sylenged as the group pondered his postulations.