2011/05/09

Still more on the torture debate

A columnist for the New York Daily News, Andrea Tantaros, claimed that liberals are selectively displaying outrage. While she says it was morally wrong to shoot Osama bin Laden, that particular case of moral outrage doesn't stir liberals to protest. On the other hand, according to Tantaros, torturing terrorist suspects is morally equivalent to shooting an unarmed bin Laden, but it's only torture that's the subject of moral outrage! Actually, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had a pretty good statement on the bin Laden shooting:

AG: Well, I think what happened over the weekend is very separate apart from the discussions that we had in 2002 over the Geneva convention, you asked me whether I thought it was legal to kill him, again, I wasn’t there I don’t know all the facts, but based on what I’ve been told, and based upon the reporting it seems to me that it was in fact a lawful kill. Osama Bin Laden was an enemy of the state, he was a military target and consequently it was legitimate to kill him during our conflict with Al Qaeda. If someone is raising a question that in fact he may have attempted to surrender then of course international laws would prohibit the United States from killing someone once they’ve indicated that they’re going to surrender. But the fact that he may have been armed, he may have been unarmed, if in fact he resists capture or makes any kind of threatening move you have to remember you have the military in a very dangerous situation, decisions have to be made in a split second and based on what I understand I think that there’s no question this was a lawful killing.

Personally*, had I been the person who broke into bin Laden's room and saw that he wasn't immediately surrendering, my concern would not have been that he was reaching for some sort of weapon, but that he'd activate some sort of suicide device that would kill everyone in the room. But the essential problem that both Gonzales and I have with her conflating the two situations is that it's an apples and oranges comparison. In the bin Laden shooting, we're talking about a battlefield-type situation where a split-second decision was called for. The US Navy SEAL simply didn't have the luxury of the time needed to determine for certain whether bin Laden posed a threat or not.

Gonzales is, of course, completely wrong about the legality of torture. Agents of the United States strapped (at least) three people down to a table and poured water onto their faces in such a way as to produce a sensation of drowning. It doesn't matter in the slightest whether there were “safeguards” Very clearly, the purpose of causing physical distress to those three people was to force them to tell our agents things that they otherwise wouldn't have said. If one looks at how human right/anti-torture laws are written, it's clear that they're not written in such a detailed way that clever lawyers can play word games with them. The United Nations Convention Against Torture does not establish any “levels” or “intensity” of pain or degradation in order for an act to qualify as torture.

In the Convention, the reason for which the pain is being inflicted is immensely important, which brings up another item that the Fox News moderator in the show brought up. She asked about US personnel who undergo training on how to resist torture if they're captured and rhetorically asked whether this should or should not inspire moral outrage. This is, again, an apples and oranges comparison. I once underwent a medical procedure that was immensely, enormously, blindingly painful. I didn't suffer any sort of trauma, not did I experience any PTSD-type syndromes. Why? Because I recognized that the doctor's intention was purely to assist me, to determine something about my medical condition.

If someone is a trainee and is undergoing a painful situation, he or she is likely to be surrounded by friends and buddies, or at the very least, to recognize that the intentions of the people surrounding them are purely friendly. When one is in a situation where one has been captured by known enemies that assuredly want you dead, the situation is entirely different and not at all comparable. Does it make the slightest bit of difference whether one has been trained or not in how to resist torture? My strong suspicion is that any sort of training would be completely irrelevant. One either has good reason to resist or one doesn't. As I pointed out, KSM managed to resist successfully and there don't appear to have been any methods or procedures that he used. Seems to me that he simply said to himself “The identity of bin Laden's courier is far too valuable for me to give to the Americans. I simply can't live with myself if I give that up.” So, he didn't.

*I'm of course presuming in this case that frequent IMC contributor Stephen Lendman is not correct and that bin Laden was still alive when US personnel raided the compound in Abbottabad. A writer from Chelsea Green agrees with this. Lendman may very well be correct, but we simply haven't seen enough evidence to say for certain.

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