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.