The torture debate in America is raging harder today then ever. On one side you have the “usual suspects” of the far Left -- environmentalists, feminists, Human Rights Watch, the Islamo-fascists, the anti-war freaks, the DUmmies. On the other hard side you have the amoral-realists -- those rough men who stand ready to have someone else do violence on their behalf.
The problem with the Left is they do not understand the enemy. They do not see that political Islam is a threat to their way of life. They ignore all evidence to the contrary, even the testimony of Muslim gays (a sure death sentence in Iran and Saudi Arabia) and Muslim feminists - both groups risk their lives, and threat of torture - to live an underground life that we take for granted as a lifestyle choice in America.
The problem with the amoral-realists is that they underestimate torture. Mostly armchair generals, they do not understand this weapon. It’s like “The Bomb.” It can be so devastatingly effective that within a short time after it was adopted, the military would try to use it in EVERY situation. Maybe you find that acceptable. Maybe those who associate with terrorists deserve a stiff beating. Maybe they should even have their fingernails torn off. Maybe their eyes should be gouged out. And let me tell you, NOTHING will get you better information then a credible threat of torture. Especially, short-term “ticking-time-bomb” info which can be easily verified. But those threats only go so far. After that, you actually have to do the job. And let me tell you, NOTHING will get you more information then actual good old-fashioned torture. Notice I said “more,” not “better.” If you really torture someone he will tell you anything to get you to stop. He will confess to any sin, admit to any vile deed, and implicate his neighbor or his brother in any plot. But what you get out of your tortured terrorist will not necessarily be the truth. It might not even make sense.
Both sides miss the real problem, though. The problem I have with “real” torture is that it degrades the torturer. I know far too many young men who would go to torture school with a honest desire to serve God and country, and would leave an essential part of their immortal soul behind. And that’s just school. I’ve been to some messed up schools, all run by our government. They have taught me how to manipulate people without them noticing the manipulation, to play on people‘s fears and hopes to get information which I am not entitled to, and to interrogate when necessary. I have also been taught to shoot and fight hand to hand. Going to these schools and ultimately practicing these skills have made me a worse person. However necessary I find this to be to keep my family and my country safe, it has dimished me.
Now imagine “really” torturing another human being, no matter how evil or debased. Or worse, imagine ordering someone else to do so. The fact that we don’t engage in real torture, torture that breaks mens souls and bodies permanently, makes us better then our enemy.
Now, how do we get out of this conundrum? What if Susan Sarandon had her hands on the person who kidnapped, tortured, and buried her child alive? What if that child could still be rescued, but only if the kidnapper would talk? Now what if the kidnapper didn’t oblige, and instead asked for his ACLU lawyer. What would Sarandon do? I know what I would do, I would feel it necessary to do anything within my power to get my child back alive and with as little harm to my child as possible. Who could look at someone, knowing that person is responsible for horrible things done to their child, possibly the death of their child, and knowing that person would not stop with your child but would continue to victimize other children, and not feel morally vindicated to do anything necessary?
This very situation has already occurred in Iraq, more than once, but most compellingly in the case of Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, who fired a gun menacingly next to the ear of a known terrorist to get information about an ambush being planned on West’s troops.
“Oh,” you may say, “But those were adults under West, not his children!” That’s true. But the responsibility commanders accept for those under them is nearly parental. Those are THEIR troops, they hold their responsibilities very dear. And would you have it any other way? West was going to do anything he could to keep his troops from going home maimed or dead. And West paid for his actions, albeit a lighter sentence, by giving up approximately $5,000 in pay and being forced to retire at 05 instead of continuing his military career.
But should he have been punished at all? For using force to save his men? For scaring the crap out of a terrorist who wasn’t physically harmed?
This is the crux of the problem. How much force is enough? You can’t legislate morality. You can’t legislate common sense. However the Supreme Court has tried to define exigencies in warrantless searches in domestic police matters:
“The need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury is justification for what would be otherwise illegal absent an exigency or emergency.” Michigan v. Tyler
So I propose a common sense solution -- physical coersion is allowed, “real” torture is forbidden. The main difference between the two is the permanence of the injuries. With physical coersion you could “water-board” a subject if you had probable cause to believe he had “ticking-time-bomb” information. You could stick sterile needles under fingernails, you could force him to stand or sit in uncomfortable positions, you could use extreme (within limits) heat or cold, you could slap or pull hair. You could also humiliate the subject (think frat boy hazing involving naked pyramids, women’s underwear, or a black sharpie). You could do what Lt Col West did -- discharge a firearm in the vicinity of a prisoner. West saved his men by the way; he found out details of a planned attack on his troops.
“…nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” 5th Amendment
You have to reconcile the tactics of Michigan v. Tyler with the spirit of the 5th Amendment. A compromise is possible. A warrant from a military magistrate or judge can be used to justify physical coersion if there is probably cause that a subject has time-sensitive information which qualifies as an exigency. However, this information will not be admissible in court because of the 5th Amendment. You get the best of all worlds, actionable intel, moral interrogators, and an intact constitution.
For the vast majority of those discussing these issues or morality and evil, this is an academic debate. For my troops and myself, it is a matter of life and death. That is something that very few people are willing to acknowledge. Discussion is necessary, and we should constantly be reviewing our actions and rules.
But I have to ask those who are opponents of any kind of torture; those who see exposure to heat and cold under a doctor’s supervision as dehumanizing, those who see loud heavy metal music as abuse, those who think sleeping with bright lights on as cruelty… How many of my men are worth the discomfort of a terrorist? How many American lives are worth a sleep deprived murderer bent on destroying as many of us as possible?
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