Monday, February 11, 2008

On Waterboarding

I know I'm late to the whole is-waterboarding-torture party, but I was struck by Senator Kennedy's (I think) questioning of attorney general Mukasey on the subject. Going from memory (I'm kind of dashing this post off), the senator from MA asked if Mukasey would think waterboarding torture while it was being done to him, personally.

Mukasey stammered out that he would. Here's the answer he should have given:

If I were to fall into the hands of our adversaries, senator, waterboarding would be the least of my worries.

Which goes to the heart of my own position on torture, to wit:

We don't like torture. We specifically do not want American POWs tortured. To that end, we would gladly sign a protocol with any competent authority representing our adversaries on the humane treatment of prisoners, and we would follow that agreement at least as well as they did.

However (you knew that word was coming), until such time as our adversaries either sign such an agreement or show some sign of exercising restraint in their treatment of the prisoners they take, then the treatment of the prisoners we take will be governed by one consideration.

Expediency.

Our enemies torture their prisoners for sport. We will not. Our enemies exploit their murders for propaganda purposes. We will not. But if a prisoner has information valuable to our operations, information that could save the lives of our own troops and civilians, then we have a duty to get that information. By all necessary means.

While we seek an end to the torture of prisoners, we will not unilaterally abjure the use of torture; such only allows our enemies to torture and murder with impugnity.

On the narrower legal question of what constitutes torture under federal law: unless specifically forbidden by treaty with our enemies, we will not regard as torture under the law any interrogation method that is used on our own soldiers as part of interrogation resistance training. This most definitely includes waterboarding.

Let me say several things parenthetically, lest this post seem too harsh for some. I am not endorsing expediency as a general moral principle. And there are no doubt some interrogation methods, if they can be so called, that I would not countenance (rape being the obvious example). I don't know where, exactly, the line should be. But I am sure that the nature of our present discussion is one which a nation in any way serious about its own preservation ought not to be having. UPDATE: Engram provides some perspective.

1 comment:

BGC said...

You might be interested by this superb analysis of the waterboarding issue from one of my favourite 'evidence-based' bloggers. An earlier posting of Engram's on this theme changed the way I think on the subject:

http://engram-backtalk.blogspot.com/
2008/02/
how-personal-income-and-cia.html