Any human being with a functioning conscience or a decent heart loathes torture. Its exercise has been a blight on humanity. With this in mind, those who oppose what the Bush administration did to some terror suspects may be justified. But in order to ascertain whether they are, they need to respond to some questions:
1. Given how much you rightly hate torture, why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose prisons engaged in far more hideous tortures, on thousands of times more people, than America did — all of whom, moreover, were individuals and families who either did nothing or simply opposed tyranny? One assumes, furthermore, that all those Iraqi innocents Saddam had put into shredding machines or whose tongues were cut out and other hideous tortures would have begged to be waterboarded.
2. Are all forms of painful pressure equally morally objectionable? In other words, are you willing to acknowledge that there are gradations of torture as, for example, there are gradations of burns, with a third-degree burn considerably more injurious and painful than a first-degree burn? Or is all painful treatment to be considered torture? Just as you, correctly, ask proponents of waterboarding where they draw their line, you, too, must explain where you draw your line.
3. Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time — even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives — wrong? If there is no question about the identity of a terror suspect , and he can provide information on al-Qaida — for the sake of clarity, let us imagine that Osama Bin Laden himself were captured — could America do any form of enhanced interrogation involving pain and/or deprivation to him that you would consider moral and therefore support?
4. If lawyers will be prosecuted for giving legal advice to an administration that you consider immoral and illegal, do you concede that this might inhibit lawyers in the future from giving unpopular but sincerely argued advice to the government in any sensitive area? They will, after all, know that if the next administration disapproves of their work, they will be vilified by the media and prosecuted by the government.
5. Presumably you would acknowledge that the release of the classified reports on the handling of high-level, post-Sept. 11 terror suspects would inflame passions in many parts of the Muslim world. If innocents were murdered because nonviolent cartoons of Muhammad were published in a Danish newspaper, presumably far more innocents will be tortured and murdered with the release of these reports and photos. Do you accept any moral responsibility for any ensuing violence against American and other civilians?
6. Many members of the intelligence community now feel betrayed and believe that the intelligence community will be weakened in their ability to fight the most vicious organized groups in the world. As reported in the Washington Post, former intelligence officer “(Mark) Lowenthal said that fear has paralyzed agents on the ground. Apparently, many of those in the know are certain that life-saving information was gleaned from high level terror suspects who were waterboarded. As Mike Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit in charge of tracking Osama bin Laden, said, ”We were very certain that the interrogation procedures procured information that was worth having.” If, then, the intelligence community has been adversely affected, do you believe it can still do the work necessary to protect tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people from death and maiming?
7. Will you seek to prosecute members of Congress such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who were made aware of the waterboarding of high-level suspects and voiced no objections?
8. Would you agree to releasing the photos of the treatment of Islamic terrorists only if accompanied by photos of what their terror has done to thousands of innocent people around the world? Would you agree to photos — or at least photo re-enactments — of, let us say, Iraqi children whose faces were torn off with piano wire by Islamists in Iraq? If not, why not? Isn’t context of some significance here?
9. You say that America’s treatment of terror suspects will cause terrorists to treat their captives, especially Americans, more cruelly. On what grounds do you assert this? Did America’s far more moral treatment of Japanese prisoners than Japan’s treatment of American prisoners in World War II have any impact on how the Japanese treated American and other prisoners of war? Do you think that evil people care how morally pure America is?
If you fail to address these questions, it would appear that you care less about morality and torture than about vengeance against the Bush administration.