Friday, November 18, 2011

Defending the indefensible

The other night (at yet another televised "debate") three GOP presidential hopefuls, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and our own Rick Perry, voiced their support for torture. Mr. Perry even went so far as to say waterboarding was an "enhanced interrogation technique."

Arizona Senator John McCain had the courage to say what few in the GOP (aside from Ron Paul) are willing to:

"Waterboarding is an affront to all of the standards that we believe in and adhere to of humane treatment of people who are human beings, and of course I am disappointed in the statements that were made," said McCain on CNN's "John King USA" Monday.  
McCain argued that waterboarding is illegal, harms the United States’s moral standing in the world and doesn't help gather reliable intelligence. 
Of course no one likes terrorists and who really gives a shit if you torture them to extract information? They're not even human, right?

At least that's the way in which the question is framed. But I don't care how you frame the question. Torture is wrong. It's demeaning, both to the person being tortured and to the person carrying out the torture.

The use of torture is an example of what Jeff Gamso would call "the Law of Rule." It is a fundamental affront to our notion of justice. If it's okay to torture alleged terrorists, how much of a reach is it to justify torture with someone accused of kidnapping a little child?

The use of torture is a violation of a suspect's Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. It violates the Geneva Convention. Members of the German and Japanese hierarchy were hung after World War II for their use of torture during the war.

From the mind of Gene Roddenberry, here is a transcript from the Star Trek: Next Generation episode entitled "Chain of Command, Part 2" that aired in December 1992. In this episode, Capt. Picard was taken prisoner by the Cardassians and taken to a secret location for interrogation by Gul Madred.
MADRED: Oh, you're awake. Have something to eat. I insist. Boiled taspar egg. It's a delicacy I'm happy to share with you.  
(Madred gives Picard a knife to slice the top off the very large egg, but this one isn't boiled. The contents are still alive and moving. Picard downs it in one)  
MADRED: Wonderful. Wonderful. I like you, human. Most people become ill at the sight of live taspar. I remember the first time I ate a live taspar. I was six years old and living on the streets of Lakat. There was a band of children, four, five, six years old, some even smaller, desperately trying to survive. We were thin, scrawny little animals, constantly hungry, always cold. We slept together in doorways, like packs of wild gettles, for warmth. Once, I found a nest. Taspars had mated and built a nest in the eave of a burnt-out building and I found three eggs in it. It was like finding treasure. I cracked one open on the spot and ate it, very much as you just did. I planned to save the other two. They would keep me alive for another week. But of course, an older boy saw them and wanted them, and he got them. But he had to break my arm to do it.  
PICARD: Must be rewarding to you to repay others for all those years of misery.  
MADRED: What do you mean?  
PICARD: Torture has never been a reliable means of extracting information. It is ultimately self-defeating as a means of control. One wonders that it's still practiced.  
MADRED: I fail to see where this analysis is leading.  
PICARD: Whenever I look at you now, I won't see a powerful Cardassian warrior. I will see a six year old boy who is powerless to protect himself.  
MADRED: Be quiet.  
PICARD: In spite of all you've done to me, I find you a pitiable man.  
MADRED: Picard, stop it, or I will turn this on and leave you here in agony all night.  
PICARD: Ah! You called me Picard.  
MADRED: What are the Federation's defence plans for Minos Korva?  
PICARD: There are four lights. (Madred uses the agoniser.)  
MADRED: There are five lights. How many do you see now?  
PICARD: (in agony) You are six years old. Weak and helpless. You cannot hurt me.  
MADRED: How many?  
PICARD: Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse
Fear has never been an effective tool of control. In order for it work, the level of fear must be ramped up constantly. In regimes across the Middle East and Africa, those dictators who held onto power through their use of fear have either been force out or are hanging on by their fingertips. All the use of fear did was fuel dissent - and once that dissent reached a critical mass, the game was up.

We're better than torture. Those who defend it are appealing to the lowest common denominator in our electorate. In the race to the bottom, Cain, Bachmann and Perry have the inside track.

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