Q: Is Waterboarding Torture? A: DUH!

Michael Mukasy, Bush nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General, says he needs to research the matter before he can say whether waterboarding is torture.  Why is this even a question that must come up at a confirmation hearing?  Because “Fredo” and his friends at the Imperial Justice Department of the Bush Imperial Presidency said it’s OK for the U.S. interrogators to do pretty much whatever they think they need to do to get information from suspected/alleged terrorists.  So if Mukasy agrees it is [DUH] torture, then he implicates Fredo and friends in criminal behavior.  Torture is and should be illegal.  Waterboarding has been around since the Spanish Inquisition say the news articles.  The U.S. itself has prosecuted people for it on many occasions.  So how or why might it be OK now?  Because the people who are being tortured are “outsiders,” Islamic terrorists (allegedly).  See Shankar Vedantam article on how and why torture has actually increased in the last 100 years as civilization has supposedly progressed.

When a group of people persist in blocking the entrance to a building, in protest of some policy or another, they are arrested for trespass.  They expect and accept this arrest as a legitimate consequence of their act of civil disobedience.   Why should a government interrogator be protected from prosecution for torture, knowing full well that what he or she is doing is both legally and morally wrong?  Why should he or she expect to be immune to the laws against torturing prisoners?

Oh, it must be because of 9/11.  These people are so dangerous, their behavior so heinous, the risk of not getting information from them too great.  So it is OK to torture them.  Isn’t that what Kiefer Sutherland teaches us on 24?  Well no, the end doesn’t justify the means.   Forget about the similarities of Vietnam and Iraq; look at the similarities of government lawlessness during Nixon and Reagan days and now.  It used to be that the School of the Americas at Fort Benning just taught all the Latin American right-wing dictatorships and others how to torture their own citizens.  While we still have extraordinary renditions by the CIA to let other countries with fewer compunctions against torture really get into prisoners, we are now willing to get our own hands dirty directly.  Thank you, cowboy Dubya and your Texas mafia.

We in America have never quite lived up to the moral high ground that is drilled into us by our history and civics courses in K-12.  Still, we have at least aspired to that higher moral ground–some of the time.  Relatively speaking, we torture less, engage in less indefensible conduct, commit fewer war crimes, etc.  We should continue to aspire, not sink to the level of the lowest common denominator for the sake of military and political expediency.

I am an ethical pragmatist, a secular humanist, a Buddhist.  If torturing one person would save the lives of hundreds or thousands of others, would that not be a pragmatic choice?  Perhaps, if it were certain that the torture would produce reliable information.  But there’s the rub; there is no such guarantee.  But if the interrogator has an urgent need for information, thinks there is no other way to get it and proceeds to torture–shouldn’t he or she get off the hook?  NO!  He or she has still inflicted incalculable pain and suffering in a potentially vain effort to extract information, in violation of law, and to let him or her off gives every other nation, every terrorist group and anybody else free rein to point out America allows this so why shouldn’t they?  But let me add this, there is a law of cause and effect at work at all times and places.  Despite the differences in religious beliefs in practices among the world’s religions, they all share a common understanding of “as ye sow, so shall ye reap.”  In Buddhism it is karma–you will get what you have coming.  The religions may differ on when, from whom and how–but it will be coming.  So all of you who approve, endorse, permit and encourage torture, realize that you are just as complicit as the one pouring the water over the cloth atop someone’s nose and mouth.