April 29, 2009
I offer a hypothetical: Your eight-year-old child, who happens to have juvenile diabetes, is kidnapped. He needs insulin daily due to his condition, which is manageable with the proper treatment.
The group responsible for the kidnapping is made up of four members, loosely affiliated, and desperate for money. The ransom, while you can possibly raise the money, is no guarantee that your son will be returned safely.
The police are investigating, with FBI assistance due to the ransom, and the locals manage to locate and arrest one of the kidnappers. This individual knows where your son is being held, but is not cooperating. How far would you have the police go to find out where your son is being held? How far would you go?
For some the answer to this question will be visceral, for others it will remain hypothetical, and abstract. Currently, there is a national debate over what to do with the government employees who made those types of decisions. About what should be done with those who actually carried out the acts — the "enhanced interrogations," or simply torture, depending on your point of view.
The world changed on September 11th, and it certainly changed for the Bush administration. To say that he and his minions were unprepared for this new reality is an understatement. That the president continued to read "The Pet Goat" to the children of the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, after he was told by Andy Card that the country was under attack, showed how unprepared he was.
That bad decisions were made in the wake of these attacks is disputed only by his most rabid supporters, the fact that many of them reside in Utah notwithstanding. The administration went on to counterattack the wrong people, in the wrong places, for the wrong reasons.
Recommended Stories For You
I don’t believe that we can dispute their zeal for protecting this nation. That they were "shooting from the hip" seems all too obvious. I don’t believe we can dispute their patriotism or their "good intentions." It’s their methods, and the efficacy of their methods, that we are disputing, from both a moral and legal standpoint.
The news media has marched out any number of experts claiming that torture does not work that the recipient will say whatever he must to stop the torture. But many Americans cling to a Jack Bauer reality where torture is the only sure way to save the American people. It always works for Jack.
I believe that to say that it can never work is not completely accurate. When Jack Bauer does it, the information he obtains is "immediately verifiable." Not an abstract about some future event. In that case it can work. If you can know in a brief period of time if you are getting the truth or a fabrication, you can proceed accordingly. This in no way addresses the legal arguments, but it possibly addresses the moral ones. Does the end justify the means if it can prevent an immanent attack on our soil?
As for the personnel that actually carried out the interrogations, I cannot fault them if they were told how to proceed directly from the commander-in-chief’s office. In war time you follow orders. If there is fault to be found, it can only be found at the very top where the "buck stops," as it were with the president himself. He is ultimately and solely responsible.
But we punish him or his underlings to what end. It was an unprecedented problem, handed to people ill prepared to solve it. Our new president has said that we, as Americans, will not cross these boundaries again. For any justification. That we’ve learned from our past mistakes.
So I bring you back to our hypothetical situation, and I wonder how many of you would stand firmly upon your moral ground when placed in such a situation. How far would you go?
This is why I suggest that we put this thing behind us, and work at solving the untold problems that lie ahead of us. I must confess that I do feel somewhat ill-at-ease knowing that I am siding with the Utah majority and not the Park City minority on this. Nonetheless, for the good of the nation as a whole, I believe we must move on; because after all, it wasn’t really hypothetical, was it?