Friday, May 1, 2009

Torturing the Facts

I don't normally consider myself to be a liberal. My views range all over the left/right spectrum, and sometimes simply don't fit on that nice, neat two-dimensional graph. But over the last few years, the conservatives and Republicans have become so consistently illogical and dishonest that I find myself almost forced into a liberal mindset in reaction.

Cal Thomas' most recent editorial on releasing evidence of detainee abuse is an excellent case in point. In the course of his article, he sets up a strawman caricature of the liberal view and, of course, completely destroys it - while totally avoiding addressing any of the real issues involved. And even with that seemingly overwhelming advantage in his argument, he still seems to need deceptive tactics to make his point. I'd like to point out a few of the more glaring fallacies and deceptions.

"In any game, much less a war, when one player plays by a set of rules and the other plays by no rules at all, it does not take a genius to conclude who will win."

Of course, that assumes that the players are relatively equal. Frankly, the terrorists with whom we are "at war" are enormously weaker than the U.S. Thomas' statement implies that the only way we can win is to descend to the same level as the terrorists - and I don't really believe that to be the case.

America-haters...want us to believe our behavior is directly linked to theirs and that if we don’t use techniques to extract information from suspected terrorists — information that might save American lives — then they won’t torture Americans who might have information they need to help them kill more of us."

Three lies for the price of one. First, it isn't the terrorists who are working the hardest to stop our use of torture. That would be counter-productive for them - as that use of torture is a huge boon to their PR and recruiting efforts. It is, instead, the liberals who want us to live up to our own principles. Second, their reason for trying to stop the torture is not to keep the terrorists from torturing our people - anyone with half a brain knows that won't happen, they're called "terrorists" for a reason. It is, instead, to turn that public relations bonanza around on them, restore us to our proper place as the morally superior side, and stop helping them recruit new fighters to kill our soldiers. And third, the idea that these techniques are necessary to extract information and save American lives is completely debunked. One of the interrogators has gone public, noting that traditional interrogation provided useful, actionable intelligence, while the "enhanced techniques" merely provided false answers, false leads, and wasted resources chasing them down.

Thomas quoted former CIA Director Peter Goss: "The suggestion that we are safer now because information about interrogation techniques is in the public domain conjures up images of unicorns and fairy dust."

No one is suggesting that releasing these memos and photos makes us safer. That's not the point. We should be using regular, legal interrogation techniques to make us safer - releasing these memos is to put a stop to the crimes committed by our own government.

He also quoted Mark Lowenthal, formerly with the CIA: "
We ask people to do extremely dangerous things, things they’ve been ordered to do by legal authorities, with the understanding that they will get top cover if something goes wrong. They don’t believe they have that cover anymore."

Frankly, they never should have believed they had "top cover." The Nuremberg Defense has been considered flawed for decades - and all U.S. military personnel (and, presumably, CIA personnel) know that they have an obligation to refuse illegal orders. And these techniques are clearly illegal - waterboarding, for instance, is a technique borrowed from the North Koreans, who used it to elicit false confessions from captured American prisoners. We have prosecuted enemy soldiers in the past, for using waterboarding on our troops. Should we now assume that it is legal simply because it has become convenient for us?

The facts are that these techniques are torture. They violate our own laws, they violate our international treaties, they make us appear as bad as our enemies, and in so doing, provide some level of justification for their further attacks on us. While Cal Thomas and other conservative columnists want us to believe that "the ends justify the means," it turns out that even if we accept that horrible ethical standard, it still isn't justified - because the means of torture produce huge amounts of false information...which keeps us from recognize any truth that might accidentally slip out.

Cal Thomas knows all this. Why is he defending the indefensible?