Wednesday, December 12, 2007

We've Already Had This Debate!

I've been watching Morning Joe on MSNBC a bit recently, and Joe Scarbororough has come out full bore defending waterboarding against his guest host, Mika Brzezinski and roving reporter David Shuster.

I have yet to locate video or the transcript from this mornings show, but in watching it live I found myself a bit flustered at one of the mutually agreed upon determinations by the protagonists. It seems that everyone agrees that it is a good thing that we as a nation are having this debate about whether or not we should employ torture in order to gain intelligence. To which I say poppycock!

The thought that we as a nation have been brought to the point of parsing what is or is not torture, and debating whether or not our national policy should allow for this or that technique is disturbing from my point of view for several reasons.

America has already had this debate. We settled this when our forefathers instituted safeguards insuring the basic human rights for people who are imprisoned by the federal government. It was settled when the founding fathers saw fit to bind our government to international treaties, and America signed the Geneva conventions. It was settled when the founding fathers gave constitutional authority to the Congress to determine the treatment of captured enemies, and Congress then wrote into law, on several occassions, statutes expressly prohibiting the ill treatment of captives. This debate was settled when the founding fathers set the standard for the care of prisoners passed from them to the Clinton administration, and overturned by the Bush administration.

It is instructive that at no point from the founding of this nation til the current administration has there been any significant portion of society who have argued for torturing captives. Simply because modern day neocons have outlandish theories and outlooks on the power of the President, who in turn can be counted upon to take the wrong headed point of view on a case by case basis, does not mean they have the right to open a debate long settled by the nation. It has always been fundamentally un-American to torture captives, period.

To now say it is a good thing to debate torturing prisoners is to take a massive step in the wrong direction, no matter how the debate is settled. This debate is closed, and anyone who thinks it should be open is frankly advocating an un-American viewpoint, no matter what their superficial logic is in wanting to debate the issue.

The fact that we are now telling the world that we find this a debatable issue takes away our right to influence the same debate in other nations. Who are we to maintain the possible right to torture our prisoners, and then call upon other nations to treat their prisoners humanely. Just yesterday we were witness to the chief legal counsel from Guantanamo Bay being unable to cogently answer whether or not he believed Iran would violate the Geneva conventions if they were to waterboard Americans. This just a couple of months after the chief legal advisor for the State Department echoed that sentiment by refusing to speculate on whether a foriegn nation waterboarding American citizens would be in violation of the Geneva conventions. This administration has removed the ability of our own government to insist upon the humane treatment of our own citizenry abroad.

With the stated inability of this administration to protect citizens who are taken captive by other nations, and the fact that the Military Commissions Act which passed Congress last year applies to American citizens, it is absolutely breathtaking to consider that under this one administration the rights of American citizens to be treated humanely have been stripped both domestically and internationally.

Let me touch upon the oft stated contention by Scarborough and other torture apologists that waterboarding is not torture. One interrogation technique widely accepted as torture are feigned executions. Now there may be some out there who believe holding a gun to someones head and pulling the trigger on an empty chamber is an acceptable technique, but that is widely acknowleged to be a form of torture. Waterboarding is no different, and in fact is even more traumatic both psychologically and physically. Victims of waterboarding tell of not being able to take showers, or being terrified if they are caught in a rain storm. The purpose of waterboarding is to make a person believe they are being drowned to death, and thus it is a form of feigned execution which, in turn, is beyond all doubt a form of torture.

Finally, a word on the efficacy of torture. I was amazed while watching David Shuster on Morning Joe finally get badgered by Joe into conceding that if torture did lead to information which would save innocent lives that he would be willing to allow for the practice. Now I may well be in the minority on this, but I say no to this slippery slope. Because if torture works for us, it works for them. And the chances of me or you being blown up by some freaky terrorists as opposed to the chance of the average citizen of the middle east being blown up by a piece of American ordinance is absurdly miniscule. If we are going to allow it to save our lives, we are hypocrites if we expect them to behave like Americans used to, and by our own logic to take casualties as a result. We might as well just chuck the notion that led America to sign the Geneva conventions. I'm not willing to do that.

Also, as noted in my last post, if we are to concede that torturing people leads to intelligence that may save lives, we are left wondering why it is that the founding fathers and every generation following them until ours forbade the policy. I contend that the emergencies face by several of those generations posed a far greater threat to the very existence of the nation and it's citizenry at the time. Just look at the sacrifices of the various generations with food rationing, military drafts and so on, compared to the sacrifice of our generation in being called upon to do our part by shopping more! We are the ones so threatened that we have to toss aside the fundamental principles regarding the treatment of captives? It is just ridiculous to even concieve... but somehow it is good that we are having this debate.

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