Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The curse of 24

A recently released poll shows that sixty one percent of American citizens believe that in rare instances, torturing terrorism suspects is ok. I can not help but wonder how much of this belief has been fostered by the Fox drama 24.

In 24, the U.S. is confronted by a terrorist plot to set off a weapon of mass destruction in one of our cities. The agents who are charged with foiling the plot resort to torturing terrorists to get the information they need to stop the attack. This is otherwise known as the ticking timebomb scenario, in which officials know an attack is imminent but need the last pieces of the puzzle to fall into place in order to stop the attack.

The practice of the torture of detainees as seen by recent revelations has hardly been in response to a ticking timebomb. It is apparent that these techniques are employed regardless of any immediate perception of threat. I wonder what percentage of the population would be ok with torturing detainees in order to possibly become aware of a ticking timebomb?

The principle here should not be clouded by fictional plots in t.v. dramas. The scenario as described by 24 frankly is highly improbable. I mean how can our intelligence know the time, and place of the attack, as well as the associations of the attacker, but not be able to stop them? I've heard the question asked, "what if on 9/10 one of the hijackers had been detained. Would you not have wished to see them tortured if necessary to gain the information to stop 9/11?" Quite frankly an arrest on 9/10 would not have clued the authorities into the nature of the plot. In the ticking timebomb scenario the authorities know the attack is imminent, but that was hardly the case on 9/10. This again leads to the question, would you be ok with torturing detainees to possibly uncover a timebomb scenario? It seems to me this is precisely what America is currently engaged in doing.

I saw someone on a talking head show discussing the ticking timebomb scenario. This was some time ago so I can not recall immediately who this person was, (I'm tempted to name Andrew Sullivan but I could be off on that recollection). I remember they were dead set against using torture in detainee interrogations. When the timebomb scenario was brought up and he was backed up against a wall, this person said that he wished the authorities would do what had to be done to stop the attack, and then they ought to resign. But he was so certain of the improbability of the circumstance described with the timebomb scenario that this pass would never be reached.

I tend to think that when it comes to the justification of torture it is not helpful to even contemplate the ticking timebomb scenario until we face that circumstance. Until that day comes our policy ought to be what it has been for many years. That we hold ourselves as the example to the world regarding human rights and torture simply is not an option. Yet the inculcation of the ticking timebomb into our culture via 24, and other fictional type dramatic movies and so on, seems to have made the option of torturing detainees more acceptable to Americans. We should be more concerned with the realities we have to deal with in the war on terror. And the reality here is that torturing detainees leads to bad intelligence, the diminution of our national standing and honor, and quite possibly to real doomsday scenarios as the Arab world is turned against us by our sadistic treatment of detainees.

One further note for consideration. With it being shown how we treat detainees, what are the chances that terrorists will be captured alive going forward? If they know full well what awaits them is torture, it seems they have even more of a reason to die rather than be captured. As if their own twisted reading of their religion were not enough of a motivation, we are now giving them even more to die rather than be captured. The famous warning passed down through the fighting ranks for ages, to save the last bullet for yourself, once held little meaning when Americans were the ones capturing you. I believe we are not going to hear of many more high value targets captured alive after our behavior towards the ones that were captured previously becomes clear. I'm not sure that the famous scenes of Iraqi soldiers surrendering en masse during Gulf War I would have been the case if the record we have established now had been the case back then.

Soldiers in uniform are never tortured. People that disguise themselves and attack civillians are not deserving of any rights.

Moral idiots cannot see beyond their own beliefs. You ridicule these terrorist's religious beliefs, and yet you dogmatically cling to your own narrow world-view.

Your only argument as to why we should not torture people in the ticking timebomb scenario is that it wouldn't make a difference. Read about Nachshon Waxman.

You claim an arrest on 9/10 would have yielded nothing. Your evidence is that you don't think torture would work. That's great, I do think it would, ergo, I'm right?
The ticking timebomb scenario is predicated on the authorities knowing that an attack is imminent. That qualification re: a possible arrest on 9/10 means it would not qualify for the scenario because we were clueless on 9/10 that an attack was imminent.

"People that disguise themselves and attack civillians are not deserving of any rights."

By military law they would be eligible for the death penalty as spies I grant you. But there is no reading of any law besides that of the jungle whereby basic human rights would not be granted to anybody under our control. You are arguing a point here even the Bushies do not agree with. When they say they don't torture (which they can claim because their definition of torture is so narrow) are you claiming they are wrong to take that position?

Now listen... I'm not arguing these folks shouldn't be fought and imprisoned and killed when we are fighting them. But once they fall into our control it is our obligation as Americans to treat them humanely. Otherwise we lose any moral high ground we once occupied in regards to human rights...

"you dogmatically cling to your own narrow world-view."

This isn't MY view... it's the stated view and policies of AMERICA through out history, and especially after WWII when we helped start the U.N. They are the views of John McCain and 90 other U.S. Senators. They are the stated if not practiced views of the administration itself! My views? I post them here, but that not what this debate is about in the least.
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