A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Monday, December 29, 2014

If Torture is Right, Then I Want to Be Wrong

I feel a need to expand on my short post of a couple years ago regarding torture, in light of the recent release of the Senate torture report. When the report was released a few weeks ago, I happened to be traveling for work and and that meant I could watch the news while getting ready in my hotel room in the mornings. While outraged at some of the rhetoric defending the behaviors described in the report, I was also saddened by a common theme I heard from those who were against the tactics described in the report. One of the main reasons for not using the techniques was that they didn't provide valuable intelligence. In other words, we shouldn't use these tactics because they didn't work.

Wrong. We shouldn't use these tactics because they are morally wrong. Full Stop. Even if these tactics did produce good intelligence information, it is still wrong to waterboard someone or use any of the other various methods of torture described in the report. If we argue otherwise, we fail to live up to the American values we say we hold so dear.

Our 8th Amendment prohibits the use of cruel and unusual punishment - the prohibition against torture is literally part of our American constitutional values. I recognize that many of these practices came out of the fear we all experienced after 9/11. I know that fear was real, and many well-intentioned people sought to protect me, and protect my family and friends. But founding that protection on the torture of other human beings is simply wrong. I don't know how to say it any better than Senator John McCain did on the Senate floor:

But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.

Torturing people is wrong, and we become less than we are when we engage in it. Here's the full video of Senator McCain's remarks on December 9, and you can read the transcript here.