The principle is whether western security services should, in their duty to protect to people of the countries they serve, torture captured enemies. The lines of debate are if torture should ever be allowed and, if so, in what circumstances? If it is ever to be allowed, there’s the question of what techniques can be applied.
What Is It?
The one topic of the moment is waterboarding and whether it is a form of torture. While there are those who say it is not, Malcom Nance, who says he’s been subjected to it during his military training, disagrees completely:
There is No Debate Except for Torture Apologists
1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.
2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.
Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject.
I’m willing to accept these definitions as accurate without equivocation. But does that necessarily mean that this interrogation technique, and others, should be 100% verboten, regardless of the situation?
Is it Worthwhile?
It seems to me that the real question, one mentioned by several readers of this site, is whether the results of a waterboarding session are even useful given the likelihood of the subject confessing anything and everything.
I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture … he spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson: “If you want to survive, you must learn that ‘walking through a low door means you have to be able to bow.’” He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered “the Barrel” version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.
Who wouldn’t? As many have said, torture is not a reliable method for extracting information. It follows that it should not be used widely or indiscriminately. Nevertheless, the ability to use it when and if a true need arises should remain part of the security forces’ arsenal of tools.
Can Western Nations Allow Themselves to Use it?
Nance goes too far on this subject, saying, "If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives."
And that hasn’t already been done? Beheading disarmed captives is a staple of the Islamic terrorist; no act is more final than that.
That is what this particular enemy does: deliberately uses violence, hatred, and brutality as weapons to make westerners afraid of them, to make us lose our will to fight, to create exactly this sort of internal conflict.
Nance also says that torture is anti-American on principle: "It [torture] is purely and simply a tool by which to deprive a human being of his ability to resist through physical humiliation. The very concept of an American Torturer is an anathema to our values."
Torture is abhorrent, but this last sentence is simply not true.
While it is in the American tradition to value fair play and human decency to a higher degree than most other cultures, what is truly anathema to us the idea that a principle should be upheld when it is destructive to society itself. In other words, sometimes the rules have to be broken and as a society we know that.
Holding ourselves to a higher standard than our enemies is a noble ideal. But believing that we should not strike back at our enemies using all possible force is incorrect. The old Americanism "Don’t Tread On Me" exemplifies this. Writing about the rattlesnake used to depict this idea on early American flags, Benjamin Franklin said:
Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?
It does, exactly, and it always has. Live and let live is the truest definition of the American spirit I know. But those who refuse to let us live in peace run the risk of bringing on themselves the full and final fury of an entity that will do whatever it takes to protect itself.
Cal Thomas sums up this part of the debate nicely here:
There is a double standard when it comes to this subject. We in the West are supposed tog adhere to certain rules so we "won’t be like them." But if the other side adheres to no rules and sees our standards as a form of weakness, such things are counter-productive to our objectives.
That seems to me to be the proper balance if it is reasonably certain the person being tortured (and how do we define torture?) has information that will save innocent lives.