Friday, September 29, 2006
I'm very behind on things I want to post here. And if I have any time to post, I want to post about the productions I saw this summer at Stratford. But I feel like I need to put down a marker on a handful of contemporary matters, so here we go: the next few posts give you my opinions on a variety of matters, with hopefully at least a little bit of supporting rationale, just so you know where I stand.
First, I'm against the torture bill, strongly. The specific techniques that Andrew Sullivan never tires of talking about - waterboarding, stress positions, hypothermia - are plainly tortures. They are "civilized" tortures in that they do not cause permanent physical harm; indeed, I've read that CIA operatives trained to apply waterboarding practice the technique on each other, which they would certainly not do if they were being trained to rip out fingernails. But they are plainly tortures, in that they are designed to cause pain and suffering, and break the prisoner by making him desperate to end that suffering. That's torture.
I'm not convinced that we need to go down this road. I'm very persuaded, in particular, by the argument that by formally legalizing such procedures, you will inevitably make them routine. That's certainly what happened in Israel when "moderate physical pressure" became part of the Shin Bet's arsenal. And while I'm both skeptical of making human rights the centerpiece of our diplomacy and generally indifferent to bien pensant opinion in Europe, formally endorsing torture by the CIA is going to alienate lots of people who are our natural allies, not only people who are already disposed to be our enemies.
I recognize the moral force of the argument for torture in a "ticking time-bomb" scenario. But if we really think there's a nuke in Los Angeles, and CIA officers torture a suspect to find out where it's hidden, and those officers are sued after the fact because they got the wrong guy, the President can always pardon them and take the political heat himself. I am totally unconvinced that we need to make torture legal and, potentially, routine in order to protect CIA officers from lawsuits. I'm far more convinced that what today is restricted to a "ticking time-bomb" scenario will tomorrow be applied for purely political purposes - as, indeed, there is some evidence was already done in the first months after 9-11.
Moreover, I do not think the Administration has earned Congress's or the people's trust in terms of what this bill actually says or how it will be applied. Even if, let's say, Arlen Specter were assured by the President verbally that, for example, this bill could not be construed as a suspension of the writ of habeus corpus for American citizens deemed by an unaccountable military court to be unlawful enemy combatants, I'm not sure why he should trust that assurance. At this late date, I think Reagan's old maxim - "trust, but verify" - must be applied to any legislation proposed by this Administration. And this particular legislation especially merits such scrutiny.
Finally, I am appalled that we are even considering legalizing torture while standing resolute in our refusal to apply appropriately targeted screening techniques at points of entry into the United States. This President has been willing to go the people demanding the right to declare anyone an enemy combatant and torture that person, but he is not willing to go the people and say that ethnicity, religion, age and sex should determine who is subject to more aggressive searches before he boards an airline. I can find no good excuse, and no good moral justification, for his preference in this regard. I wish the opposition party could oppose this bill in those terms, but unfortunately they will not. So I am left hoping they will successfully oppose it in whatever terms, because this bill should be opposed, and defeated.