Then What Makes Us Different? Torture Edition

Then What Makes Us Different? Torture Edition December 15, 2014

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently released a report on the CIA’s torture program. You can read their summary here. The report, which covered 2001 to 2009, told of water-boarding, sleep deprivation, rectal rehydration, and even of trying to get detainees to talk by threatening their children. But as horrifying as I have found the report itself (if sadly unsurprising), I have been perhaps more horrified by some of the responses I have seen, especially on the Right.

Perhaps the most common argument is that we simply had to do whatever it took:

From Karl Rove:

We aren’t going to convince the hard left, but we do need to remind the American people, the vast majority of whom are not part of the hard left, that these techniques worked in a dark moment for our country to keep our country safe.

From Eric Bolling of The Five:

I celebrate what the CIA did in the aftermath of 9/11. Three-thousand people lost their lives downtown. We were angry. America was on our heels. We didn’t know what to do, and the CIA came forward, and they aggressively interrogated, legally, aggressively interrogated some bad guys, and they got some intel that led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Why are we apologizing for it? I’m not really sure.

From Sean Hannity:

I don’t give a flying rip because I am certain that American lives were saved … I don’t care that we waterboarded Kalid Sheik Mohammed.

From Andrea Tantaros on Fox News:

Sunlight at the CIA? I’m sorry. That’s one place I don’t need sunlight. I don’t think they need to give me a lot of transparency at the CIA. Look, thousands of Americans were killed after 9/11. The Bush administration did what the American public wanted, and that was do whatever it takes to keep us safe.

This fall I have been watching the TV series The 100. The protagonist, Clark, who early in the series stood for what was right at whatever the cost and won a great deal of respect for it, breaks down midway through the series and orders an enemy tortured when her love interest’s life is at risk. Another character originally known for negotiating and trying to prevent war ultimately shoots an enemy in cold blood and then carries out a massacre of enemy women and children. I mean I get that we’re supposed to see these characters as human, and that people are complex, but I’m honestly no longer sure which side is the “good” side and who should win the clash between civilizations the show portrays.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? If we are to have any claim to being the “good” side, we can’t do “whatever it takes.” The good guys don’t do that. The good guys stand for what is right, even when that is hard—even when 3,000 civilians have died in a horrific terrorist attack. Otherwise, what makes us different from the “bad” guys?

Too often in history, military conflicts have occurred not because one side is “good” and the other is “bad” but rather simply because the two sides have disagreed, whether over land, or authority over the sea, or trade routes. The “good” side has been whichever side you are on. I’d like to think that we can move beyond this. I don’t want to see my side as “good” simply because it is the side I am on—in fact, I refuse to see it as “good” for that reason alone. I want to see my side as “good” because it actually is “good.” And perhaps that is a change from the way things were in the past, but then, so is the idea that people have basic human rights.

But I at least understand the argument that we had to do whatever it took. Some of the other responses, not so much.

From former congressman Joe Walsh:

Everybody is all abuzz that we had to do some pretty tough things to fight an evil enemy. I’m glad they put the report out. I’m glad, though, because I I don’t think we should be ashamed of what we put out. Again, we’re fighting an evil enemy. There are times when we need to get our hands dirty when we fight than enemy … I don’t have a problem with what’s released. I think we can never ever forget who we’re dealing with. I mean, we’re dealing with ISIS, Al-Qaeda. They don’t abide by the Geneva Convention. They can’t even spell the Geneva Convention. This is a different kind of war.

They can’t even spell Geneva Convention? Really? Really? Does Walsh actually think the leaders of ISIS and Al-Qaeda can’t read? But more than this, since when are we only bound by the Geneva Convention when the other side abides by it? I mean, can’t they just use the same argument—that we’re not abiding by the Geneva Convention, so why should they?

And here we see our enemy called “evil.” Frankly, I don’t have a problem calling those who behead journalists and hold girls as sex slaves “evil,” but if we’re going to make this about morals rather than just us v. them, we have to make some effort to actually be “good.” And yet, Walsh says that “there are times when we need to get our hands dirty.” So what is our call to action? “They’re evil and we’re not quite as bad”? Is that the argument we really want to be making?

Um, well, apparently it is, at least for the American Family Association:

When I see the Islamists beheading, cruelly torturing and beheading Americans, I’m not too concerned about waterboarding them. Really, I’m not … That’s not like we beheaded them to see what it felt like.

There’s also more from the interview with former congressman Joe Walsh:

COSTELLO: Is an American hero someone who is instructed by our government to conduct rectal force-feedings on a prisoner, or chain someone naked to a concrete floor until he dies, or nearly drown them two to three times a day? Is that the definition of an American hero?

WALSH: It may, Carol, be part of the job description. Our men and women, and again, the CIA, they’ve been on the ground–

COSTELLO: Really!?

WALSH: Absolutely. Look, we forget as Americans who we’re dealing with. Got to be frank. We’re dealing with animals. We’re dealing with groups of people who behead, blow up, exterminate people–

COSTELLO: So we too should be animals?

WALSH: The way you defeat an animal, Carol, often times, is to act like one.

Yes, you read that right. There’s a winning strategy right there—call your opponents animals! But Walsh doesn’t just call our opponents animals, he also says we need to act like animals sometimes to defeat them.

I am not okay with that.

I believe that my enemies have rights too. Everyone has basic human rights. Should people who do bad things be tried and convicted and punished? Yes. But we have a process for that. We have rules. We have things like the Geneva Convention. We have created these rules so that we can protect all people’s basic human rights while at the same time punishing wrongdoing.

But of course, the American Family Association disagrees:

Do not forget that these detainees have no constitutional rights, because they’re not American citizens; they have absolutely no constitutional rights that they can claim, and they have no Geneva Convention rights.

And so I am disgusted.

Look, I realize how evil the groups we fight can sometimes be. I spent some time recently reading about the thousands of young Yazidi girls captured by ISIS and sold to various fighters as sex slaves. I was horrified and outraged. But if we are going to oppose evil in the world, we have to hold ourselves to a better standard. Victory at all costs is not acceptable when it involves violating our basic standards—the very things that make us “good.”

Today, I hang my head in shame.

Read more responses here: 

Right-Wing Voices Sneer at Senate Committee Torture Report

More Right-Wing Voices Respond to Torture Report

If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then I don’t want to be a Christian

Here Are Some of the Worst Conservative Reactions to the CIA Torture Report

After Torture Report, Our Moral Authority As a Nation Is Gone

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