(A volunteer undergoes waterboarding. Photo: Dailymail.co.uk)
This isn't at all the first time I've turned the concept of torture around in my mind. I do think it is the first post I'll have written about it. I'm also near certain it will be the last as I generally find the subject to be vapid and almost always intellectually illogical, inconsistent and even dishonest.
The proponents toss out sensational nonsense to this tune: "well it's necessary 'cause what if there were this, like, bomb and it was gonna, like go off in 48 hours and this one dude knew where it was and...blah, blah, blah" and so it goes, the invocation of the great Fictional Hero, Jack Bauer, blasting out some poor bastard's knee caps and in so doing, fitting in that last crucial piece of the puzzle to save America. Makes for great television, no doubt, but what's the reality? I suspect such occasions are very rare. Indeed if such events were common place we'd be arguing about blasting kneecaps and not water boarding. I feel such sensational fiction along with media fear mongering is responsible for the general acceptance of torture in our society and gives no credence to its literal effectiveness.
The proponents at least maintain a semblance of tangible cause, however superfluous and fantastic. The opponents, however, rely on the more metaphysical foundation for their windy indignation. The essence of Morality. Given that the debate regarding torture takes place within the context of waging war I find this shiny, golden and righteous principle to be the logical equivalent of a pregnant pole vaulter. In short, it doesn't fit. No, it's quite antithetical to the concept of warfare as the American military wages it. Why?
Our military doctrine, strategies and tactics go to great lengths to protect the lives of non-combatants. However, we also realize and fully accept the certainty of collateral damage, or in plain speak, the damage to private property and more pertinent, the acceptance of non-combatant casualties. In short, while the US military strives to focus it's efforts in a most narrow and constricted fashion against enemy combatants, we realize the tragic reality of war. Our actions, inadvertently, end the lives of men, women and children who have nothing to do with war beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong side. And we accept that.
And yet some of the most outspoken opponents of torture (like John McCain; and yes I know full well his personal connection to this subject, but being CiC means putting aside subjectivity at times) fully accept the ideally inadvertent and yet realistically acceptable loss of life as "moral" but the concept of torture is somehow taboo. We're willing to kill children (inadvertently) but water boarding is unacceptable, no, immoral. Maybe my cynicism outweighs my understanding of morality but that concept is dichotomous at best and simply ridiculous otherwise. I get the acceptance of "collateral damage." It's a horrible reality of war. I don't get the sudden, strident morality when it comes to torture.
Here's how I see it. Torture is a potential method of intelligence gathering. The debate shouldn't be about morality (remember we regularly accept dead women and children as collateral damage) rather should be about it's effectiveness. If it doesn't work (and from what I've read, other less extreme methods produce better results) then we shouldn't do it.
The concept of arguing the morality of water boarding a captive while we're generally comfortable accepting the killing of non-combatants is patently ridiculous from my perspective.
Just to add: The concept of waterboarding for the actual enemy combatant and the concept of being voluntarily waterboarded are, very likely, night and day. As this video at Coming Anarchy illustrates, Christopher Hitchens is given three fail safe stop's to his voluntary endeavor. And he very quickly uses one, ending the experience. An actual combatant doesn't retain such comforts. And so Hitchens (and others) experience lacks a very poignant mental facet of this practice. Watch the video and imagine the guy on the bench isn't a journalist who can stop the whole deal anytime he wants but an actual enemy combatant at the mercy of his hooded "interrogators." Now you can laugh at all the drooling dullards that would claim water boarding isn't torture but "coercive interrogation."