I see those miles of white markers at Arlington Cemetery – thousands on thousands of small white gravestones placed over the bodies of young Americans who gave up their lives to save our American values. We have not always acted beautifully – not always in accordance with our highest ideals. We have failed from time to time. But Americans as a people have not failed.
The would-be torturers ask: “What do we do when we know an attack is eminent and that one person knows when and where the devastation will occur? He will not respond to ordinary interrogation. Shouldn’t we torture him for the answer?”
The question is a trick question – a dishonest hypothetical construct. Let me show you why:
The torturer will always argue that the man he has strapped to the gurney knows when, where and by what means the bomb will fall. How does the torturer know this? Has he tortured others to find out? Haven’t we opened the doors to torture in exponential proportions? Haven’t we provided an excuse to all who wish to torture and the rationale to torture at will?
The torturer himself may be unstable, misinformed, evil, stupid or paranoid. His agenda may be pathological. Do we test the torturer hoping to discover if he is solid and credible? In general I would not trust the life of a harmless bunny rabbit to someone who is willing to torture another human being. There is something shadowy and fearsome about such a person who would allow himself to perform such horrors on another human being. It is easy to get caught up in trick questions that have no concrete attachment to reality. We ought not argue such questions because they open dangerous pits from which we may never be able to extricate ourselves.
Let me ask my own hypothetical question: Suppose we could store all of our American values, in, say, a cup. To whom would you entrust the sacred cup? Would you deliver it to some unknown person who was chosen by Lord knows who, who, himself was chosen by Lord knows who, to protect and preserve the cup for a nation?
Another hypothetical question: Would we deliver the wealth of a nation to someone who instead of torture, could roll out a train loaded with thousand dollar bills – billions – to purchase the necessary information to save the nation? It would, of course, greatly affect our taxes. It would break many of us. We might argue that the enemy might well accept such massive wealth under false pretenses but still destroy us. Yet the enemy may well also accept torture without telling us the truth and in the process of torturing we would have sacrificed our values as Americans.
Torture is evil. To accept it under any case – and all cases will eventually prove to be hypothetical – is to tell ourselves that we really don’t believe what we say we stand for.
Torture is evil. To accept it under any case – and all cases will eventually prove to be hypothetical – is to tell ourselves that we really don’t believe what we say we stand for. It says that we lied to those kids who gave up their lives and whose bodies rot under the little white markers at Arlington Cemetery. It says we have a set of life rules that when tested have no meaning, because they can be set aside at the whim of some unidentified torturer in a hidden room. That person does not speak nor act for me.
Likely he does not speak nor act for any of us.