Earlier today Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania switched parties from Republican to Democrat. The right wing loon machine is in full swing spinning his departure as long overdue. Nevermind the fact that Republicans now only have 40 members with zero chance of actually winning the Pennsylvania seat back. The person who inspired Specter’s defection, former Representative Pat Toomey, spoke with Sean Hannity tonight:
Archive for April, 2009
Several years ago while he was still president, George W. Bush declared vehemently that the “United States does not torture.” Many observers, including this one, knew better than that. Evidence has been leaking from the administration for some time whether it be renditions in foreign countries where we hand over terrorist suspects to governments that we know will torture them or the secret CIA prisons that were revealed. It has been America’s dirty little secret.
Now it’s not so secret and good riddance. America should not stoop to the level of our enemies. We have maintained an image in the world since World War II as a beacon of freedom for the rest of the world only to slowly corrode it over time as we continued down the path toward imperialism. If we allowed the Republicans to have another term then we would have gotten there eventually.
This in itself, however, is not an adequate argument. As evil, inhuman and illegal as torture may be, some people will raise the issue that if American lives are at stake, it is the duty of the government to do anything to obtain this information. Torture advocates often warn of a “ticking time bomb” scenario that is more suitable for Hollywood lore than it is for serious political discourse.
Of course there are people out there that would like to do harm to the United States. We should do everything within the confines of the Constitution, American laws and treaties that we are signatories to in order to disrupt the terrorists that seek the destruction of American lives. Torture is not the way to do that. According to the top experts in the field, torture yields highly inaccurate information that sends our intelligence on wild goose chases. On top of the negative image that it sends putting us back in the PR war against Al Qaeda, we also waste resources.
Arguments have been made, particularly by conservative leaders like Charles Krauthammer that if we have information and know that a suspect has information that can prevent an attack, it is the president’s obligation to use any means necessary to obtain that information. The first problem with this is that it is next to impossible to know that someone has information. Furthermore, even if they did know, we could not confirm its authenticity unless we already knew the information that we obtained through torture. This case would be particularly disturbing since it would not even be necessary.
As unlikely as torture is to provide any meaningful information, it certainly is fully possible for this practice to become widespread abuse. It already has. The Bush administration gleefully employed the technique against suspected terrorists. As CNN puts it: “Interrogators waterboarded Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August of 2002; and they used the tactic against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the 9/11 attacks, 183 times in March of 2003. That’s about six times a day.” If getting information is all that this is about, as the conservatives claim, then why are we waterboarding someone 183 times in a month? How does that provide useful information? I really would like to know.
I do not sympathize with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He deserves far worse than what he got. But that is not the place of the United States government. These tactics are treacherous for any nation that claims to be a free and democratic state. Peggy Noonan and other conservative commentators may want to “keep walking”, but people with a conscience have a duty to stand up and object when our government condones this kind of practice. We need a clear, indistinguishable line between ourselves and the terrorists that we are fighting. Torture blurs the line beyond recognition.