Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Allen Derschowitz is wrong on torture.

This morning on Npr's Morning Edition Allen Derschowitz suggested that not all torture might be bad. "Torture is never acceptable, but it's a reality that should be covered by rules." (If people are going to rob a 7-11s, there ought to be a rule.) He thinks that instead of the United States government going around torturing people in the dark and in secret, what we should do is have a discussion about what types of torture might be acceptable, and that if we just have to torture, we can put it into law and then it can be signed off on by the president -- as opposed to low level military personal making choices like this on their own. Some how, he thinks, this will make it more legal and less morally reprehensible. I'm sure if the world knew that we only tortured people when W. said it was ok; that would convince everyone we weren't acting like Saddam Hussein. (we're different, we love freedom)

Where to begin? First of all: torture is illegal in all instances according to our laws and all the international treaties that we have signed and have abided by for almost 50 years -- until now. The world led by the United States, after WWII did have a discussion about torture and decided it was illegal, and more than that, was beyond the pale for civilized societies to participate in. Remember the Nazis; remember the Japanese and the atrocities they were responsible for? The idea was that after that terrible war, after all the death and destruction, the world was going to be a better place and we were better than the Nazis because we didn't do things like that.

Now all of a sudden we're in another "war," this time against an ideology -- whatever that means -- and I guess this time around the particular enemy we're facing is so much more of a threat than Hitler and Tojo were that we just have to throw all those fine sounding ideals out the window.

For Allen Derschowitz to come out and say that we should start splitting hairs about whether waterboarding is really such a bad thing -- because it leaves the victim unharmed afterwards -- or sticking a sanitized hypodermic needle under someone's finger-nails -- it's sanitized! -- is just mind boggling! Where do we stop with this line of thinking? If torture is OK, maybe then, if there's a ticking time bomb about to go off in New York City, or there's a 1% chance of one going off, we should round up all the Muslims in the US and put them into camps just to be on the safe side. But why stop there, maybe we don't have time to round them all up, maybe we should go into their homes and kill them all.

Despite his example of Israel and the Mossad's claims about how many suicide bombings they've prevented by using torture, which Derschowitz accepts as gospel, the fact is that torture doesn't work as an intelligence gathering tool. The British found this out in their war against the IRA, and I thought our military and intelligence services had learned it too, judging by the large opposition to the technique by numerous JAGs and former CIA officials, but apparently not.

I don't know why it is so difficult for some people to understand, but someone being tortured will say anything they're told to say to stop the pain. This is human nature! This is why people who are actual experts on intelligence gathering; not blowhard politicians, gullible vice-presidents and fat, pill-pooping, right-wing talk show hosts; all reject the use of torture as means of extracting valuable information. It doesn’t work, it doesn't work, and it doesn't work! Jack Bauer is a fictional character on a TV show, his way of doing things wouldn't have gotten any more information out of all those "suspected insurgents" at Abu Ghraib than General Miller and his wrecking crew did; the insurgency rages on.

And after holding all those dangerous terrorists out of the loop for 4 years at Guantanamo and blasting loud music at them and smearing fake menstrual blood on their faces, they still didn't give up any information about Madrid bombings, or the London bombings, or where OBL is hiding out. In the mean time we're about one notch above Libya on the pariah state index in the eyes of our enemies and allies, so by all means let's have a discussion about what good torture is as opposed to bad torture.

My advice to Allen Derschowitz is that he might be better off practicing law in Israel, where torture is also illegal -- wink, wink -- but where apparently real men really know how to deal with terrorists. This is the United States, land of the free, home of the brave. The reason the rest of the world has looked up to us for two centuries is because we're not going to sacrifice our deeply held moral beliefs, our laws and our souls in exchange for the assurance that if we just give all of it up we'll be safe. If he's so afraid of his physical safety and such a moral coward, then he's in the wrong country.


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