David Kirkpatrick

March 20, 2008

Why discussing the US and torture …

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:24 pm

… is a debate worth both time and intellectual energy. In a previous post on US torture, there was (an all too short) debate on the United States use of torture, and particularly waterboarding, in the comments.

Do read the linked post and all the comments, but I’m going to include my final comment here because I feel it sums up my thoughts on the subject:

I would say elements of both the left and the right use the Global War on Terror (and all its attendant parts, including this issue) as a proxy for ideological arguments.

There are vocal elements of the left who want to do just what you wrote — shut down Gitmo, pull out of the Mideast, etc. And I’m pretty sure there’s parts of the right that would have no problem instituting full-blown, no questions asked systematic torture to attempt to pry information from captured combatants.

What I meant by not a left/right issue is, the topic under discussion — waterboarding and its role in the GWOT — transcends the ideological battles described above.

Certainly pretty much every one in opposition to the Bush administration is against our using the technique, and a number of administration supporters and members have publicly aired concerns as well. Yes, there’s a core of right wing support for waterboarding, but it is a controversial topic. Some people may make it a divisive issue, but the real debate is not inherently divisive.

As I quoted above, as recently as Vietnam our service members were court martialed for using that very technique. The technique may or not be torture, but we defined it as such for a long period of time.

September 11, 2001, created the change in that policy. As shocking as 9/11 was, at the highest levels of government it was not a complete surprise. We’ve known about bin Laden and al Qaeda for a long time, and knew he was plotting against our policies and person.

The question I ask is 9/11 and the subsequent framing of the GWOT worthy of throwing out a policy of non-torture that began during the Revolutionary War and was put into practice by George Washington?

I don’t think the technique is necessary to effectively prosecute the GWOT. I would particularly like to hear a sound justification from the administration why this change in policy was necessary and how it is effective. I’m sympathetic to needs of secrecy regarding the GWOT because there is a unique, and new, nature to the threats facing the US, but I also think this shift is so fundamental to our national heritage and image this debate should be conducted with much more transparency on both sides.

Sure waterboarding is a proxy for many things left and right, but it’s also a tangible and controversial issue.

You mention you feel I’m passing judgement after listening only to the prosecution. I feel I’ve read a wealth of material from sources on the left and right, and from journalism (biased or not) that presents facts. To date the pro-waterboarding side has not persuaded me that bin Laden and his minions require the US to radically change the way we approach the rest of the world militarily and legally. I think the America of September 10, 2001, was perfectly capable of handling the GWOT.

Sure that Tuesday morning I was blindingly angry. I was woken in a vacation condo on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida, to hear the World Trade Center towers were both struck by planes. When the media began reporting celebrations in Afghanistan I immediately thought of bin Laden (didn’t think of al Qaeda per se, but I was aware of bin Laden pre-9/11). My next thought was we should nuke that country back from its then (and now) Middle Age society to the Stone Age, or maybe to time before humans walked in Afghanistan.

That was my heart. I feel no less strongly about Islamic terrorism today than I did at that moment. I do know I think the US did very well for itself before 9/11, and to me nothing occurred that warrants changing our fundamental approach to the world.

So that’s the question I ask, and the topic I’m discussing — does the GWOT make changing our core values necessary? Or worthwhile? For me, until I learn something completely new about the topic, the answer is no.


  1. You feel less strongly about Islamic terrorism, do you?
    You might feel different if you were a female apostate like I am constantly threatened.

    Comment by apostatepakistanigirl — March 20, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

  2. I think you missed the “no” in the “less strongly” part of that sentence. I’m assuming you refer to the second to last graf.

    (Of course this is a great reminder why double negatives are a weak element in any argument. Technically “no less” = the same, or more)

    Comment by davidkirkpatrick — March 20, 2008 @ 6:08 pm

  3. hi sorry, you are totally right, I jumped to the wrong conclusion cos I got so used to Americans undeructting our efforts to fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan by constant soul searching and second guessing ure own actions. Send a clear message to Pakistanis that you are still SERIOUS, we’ll follow, but there is no half measure, if you getting worried about stuff like putting their heads in water than how serious are you? Now you might think I’m a vicious little bitch, maybe, but what’s happening now in Pakistan is horrific and to cap it all, we got YOUR SENATORS coming over here trying to introduce radical Islam into our national assembly in the name of ‘democracy’. American people, if you are not serious to support General Musharraf, let us know, cos we’ll swap sides and go to China or Russia. Our feeling, as a Musharraf supporter, is that you are not very serious as allies, as freinds, as people ready to crush Al Qaeda. If you support for General Musharraf, we going to support YOU, we done so much already, but when not question us more and more cos to fight Al Qaeda in the tribal belt- you better support our very ruthless tactics, not to criticize us with Amnesty and most most most of all- NOT TO SELL US OUT by secret dealings with your new Islamic friends.
    Ok, bye bye,

    Comment by apostatepakistanigirl — March 22, 2008 @ 3:18 am

  4. […] Sully, Bush and war crimes Filed under: Politics — Tags: Andrew Sullivan, Bush 43, the Daily Dish, war crimes — davidkirkpatrick @ 7:14 pm Andrew Sullivan opines about the Bush 43 regime and war crimes. What has occurred under the auspices of the US government over the last six and half years is a national tragedy. I’ve written many times on my stance about our execution of the “war on terror.”  […]

    Pingback by Sully, Bush and war crimes « David Kirkpatrick — March 29, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

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