Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Torture and American Principles

I know it's a hard and difficult situation in world politics and American policies regarding the apprehension, interrogation, detention and trials of a far-flung and loosely organized group of terrorists whose goal is to drag America and its allies into hateful, relentless tribal warfare and sporadic attacks on people of all races and religions around the globe.

I have a strong conviction and belief however, that this nation must maintain the strict adherence to civilized behavior, democratic ideals, the tenets of freedom and liberty and law. Isn't that the very core of our national ideals and principles which terrorists want to dismantle?

The recent push by the Bush administration to redefine (or "clarify") policies and rules for holding and interrogating enemies steps too far away from a position of strength, and threatens our credibility both at home and abroad.

A pointed essay by Paul Waldman at raises important questions, presents challenging comments and also underscores the need for maintaining a "moral high ground" in this critical moment in American and World History.

Some excerpts:

In the latest Weekly Standard, William Kristol, —fierce advocate of not only the war in Iraq but another war against Iran, so you know he knows what he'’s talking about, —enthuses that Republicans are becoming the pro-torture party, and therefore they'’re bound to do well in November'’s elections.

If this truly is a clash of civilizations, the conservatives have chosen to engage it by getting in touch with their inner barbarian.

And when progressives (and the occasional conservative) question whether such actions betray our values, the answer from Bush and his supporters is that we should be measured not by our principles, —or by any principles at all, —but by the actions of our enemies. The moral high ground is to be found no more than one step above the worst thing terrorists have done lately. The president may order the use of sleep deprivation and '“stress positions'” to induce mental and physical agony in prisoners, —but hey, he hasn'’t personally chopped anyone'’s head off, so you know he'’s on the side of the angels.

But it is moral poison to measure yourself by the worst acts of your enemies. This is what conservatives have brought to America; the time since 9/11 has seen a moral descent, —if not an outright moral deadening, —on the part of the right."


The justification is always that we'’re dealing with terrorists, who are really, really bad people. So why should they deserve due process? The answer that the twisted conservative mind seems incapable of grasping is that a nation committed to liberty, justice and the rule of law does not have one set of procedures for nice people and another set for mean people. It sets up procedures that reflect its values."

I urge you to read and consider the arguments in the essay. I'm sure there are many who will disagree with the opinions Waldman makes, but an open and plain discourse on these questions is vital not only today but for the future as well.

Another debate on these issues has been growing via a post a KnoxViews. Another essay on the topic is in the Washington Post.


  1. Y'know, Doug at Reality Me had a great link illustrating how, to a lot of other countries, we don't stand for anything near what we think we do.

  2. All those Civics classes gone up in smoke & mirrors.

  3. Look, our reputation and moral stance as a nation aside, what I find most baffling is how an argument is essentially being made that torture will get us the intelligence we need to fight terrorism, when the evidence seems to be to the contrary.

    Torture yields false confessions and breeds mistrust and greater hatred of the US. I have read many interviews with FBI and CIA agents who have been working the front lines on the "War of Terror" and who claim the best intel has come from former members of al Qaeda who were made to trust the agents and who were treated as valuable informants rather than brutalized and held indefinitely in prison.

    You get more bees with honey than with vinegar, no?

  4. I don't get how, in the year 2006, we actually need a "Torture Debate". There is no debate. Torturing human beings is morally repugnant. If anyone wants to debate me on that, please, feel free to tell me how exactly the torture of human beings could ever be considered not morally repugnant. And no, the old, "Well, they do it, and they're really bad guys," line doesn't work, because that still doesn't answer how torture can be not morally repugnant. This is the only point that matters, and I haven't heard one person in any forum answer that point. Which means we (Americans in particular and Westerners in general) are all pretty much agreed that torture is morally repugnant. Which means we're "debating" the "merits" of something that is universally considered to be unacceptible, even evil, behavior. With a straight face, no less. This planet has gone to ass. I'm moving to Betelgeuse. Anyone care to join me?

  5. "Torture yields false confessions and breeds mistrust and greater hatred of the US.

    indeed. under torture, someone will admit to being a witch of amazing powers.

    no matter how the president uses the phrase "alternative interrogation", the world knows he means torture. it is an unacceptable action.