Thursday, December 11, 2014

Our enemies act without conscience - we must not

Do the ends justify the means?  Count me on the side that says no.  I side with John McCain and George Washington on this one.

Senator Diane Feinstein released the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation methods.  Too many of the techniques are straightforward torture: waterboarding, rectal feeding, extreme sleep deprivation, freezing, etc. 

Some of my conservative friends may say who cares?  We are dealing with depraved terrorists and we need to stop them and what we have to do is not fit for viewing by women and children but it is something that men do because they have to and thank goodness for hard men who can stomach doing such things as it makes us all safer.  

Indeed, I was one of them immediately after 9/11/2001 - who were al Qaeda? where were they? did they have nukes? chemical weapons? Just find out, soon, now!  

Some of my liberal friends, and some conservatives too by the way, think that we have been lied to in both the extent and the effectiveness of the “interrogation techniques’ and that indeed we tortured and got not very much in the way of good intelligence.

John McCain said it very clearly by saying that our torture was not unknown to the Arab world, just to the American people:

"...that doesn’t mean we will be telling the world something it will be shocked to learn. The entire world already knows that we water-boarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven’t been a secret for a decade.”

What is the result of torture?  Doesn’t it just give the terrorists a great recruiting tool? Doesn't it just produce more terrorists with more really good reasons to hate and kill, and torture?

The torture was more understandable in the beginning because our intelligence agencies had failed so totally, they new nothing, they used everything to find out what they could.  But...  Time passed.  And they ended up knowing more and more, and they didn't have to be desperate anymore.  But torture had become Standard Operating Procedure.  

That's the trouble with the idea that the ends justify the means, the ends go away but the means become Standard Operating Procedure.

Actually, another American who was quite experienced in the terrible arts of war had an opinion on that matter, George Washington.  

After a battle, Washington’s troops were going to force German Hessian mercenaries fighting on the side of the British through the brutal treatment of the gauntlet (multiple beatings by the victorious soldiers).  He stopped them and told them this:

 “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,’ he wrote. In all respects the prisoners were to be treated no worse than American soldiers; and in some respects, better. Through this approach, Washington sought to shame his British adversaries, and to demonstrate the moral superiority of the American cause.”

Apparently, his humanity toward his prisoners paid off as many of the Hessians switched sides, fought against the British, and stayed in America after it was all over. 

If we torture our prisoners all we do is say America is no longer an exceptional nation, no longer are we a Shining Light on a Hill, we are just another nation in a long line of nations with no real moral, ethical, ideological, or exalted purpose or meaning. We are just like others, indeed, we are just like our enemies whom we are fighting under a pretense that our enemies are bad and we are better.

I will close with John McCain again, as I can’t say it any more simply and powerfully:

"Our enemies act without conscience. We must not"