Friday, May 1, 2009

Torture? No. Except...

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. We know we must act but have no idea where or how -- and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.
This is one of the more asinine pieces of conservative "thought" it has ever been my privilege to read. The first exception, of course, is that tired old ticking time bomb chestnut. "Now suppose we were holding a terrorist that we knew had information that would allow us to find and disarm a bomb..." Now suppose I get to make up any far-fetched scenario I want to justify coming to any old conclusion that I have already reached. Has such a ticking time bomb case ever happened? Is it likely to? Would torture be likely to extract the intelligence we need (certainly not from Krauthammer)? Or would we most likely get 24 hours worth of misleading "leads," and devote time and manpower to fishing for red herrings?

The second "exception" quoted at top, can essentially be simplified to "If we think we need more and better information to save people's lives, torture is justifiable." Uh huh. That's right. All the distraction of high-value this and high-value that does not have any meaningful legal definition. It's a judgement call. So if I decide- or believe I have reliable intelligence- that Krauthammer, Limbaugh and Beck are "high-value enemies" with "high-value information" regarding the progress of swine flu going into next fall, I (or more to the point, the POTUS) would, under Krauthammer's logic, not only be permitted to waterboard those three, but morally obligated to do so.

The other particulary obnoxious aspect of this essay is the author's reliance on testimonials of those involved with torture to explain how terribly important, useful and effective it is. Jeffrey Dahmer explains how serial murder and cannibalism can stretch those tight grocery dollars! Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: senseless massacre leads to world-wide fame! Former Bush officials assure uncertain world, "Torture is effective. Trust us. Really. We've saved, oh, literally zillions of lives. And besides, it's not torture if we don't call it that."

Yeah, let's just call waterboarding something like "Supervised Oxygen Alleviation and Questioning (SOAQ)." Because, really, if you're completely ignorant, and you suspect someone may know something, giving them a good SOAQing might make you feel more intelligent.

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