Friday, December 12, 2014
Take this quick and (not so) easy CIA torture quiz!
Here’s a simple quiz. One question. Multiple choice. Pick either A or B.
Ready? Then let’s begin.
1. Complete the sentence:
America is a great nation because
A) everything we do is, by definition, right.
B) we try to do what’s right and when we fail we admit it and try to do better.
A simple quiz, but not an easy one, and many people get it wrong.
I won’t tell you the correct answer just yet so as to leave some readers in suspense.
But I will, promise.
First, a bit of context, namely the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the orgy of CIA torture the Bush administration unleashed after Sept. 11. Turns out, Jack Ryan fantasies notwithstanding, that brutalizing people who had fallen into our clutches didn’t do much good in terms of keeping our country safe, didn’t help find bin Laden or uncover any big terror plots.
Which fits in with what we know about torture; it tends not to produce intelligence.
I can’t say my world was rocked by the news. We knew Dick Cheney and his henchmen consider themselves tough guys and, denied the traditional tools of rack and thumbscrews, were happy to make do with waterboarding and sleep deprivation.
The details are repulsive—one prisoner froze to death chained to a concrete floor.
But then, details of atrocities usually are.
More surprising to me than the report were the howls of justification that came from the Right, starting with those who didn’t want to reveal the report at all because it might encourage terrorism.
Sure it could. But is that our new standard of behavior? Are we against things that might inflame potential enemies? Because if that's our policy, it's a big list. We can start by scrapping the First Amendment and requiring women to start wearing veils.
That's obviously not happening. The standard isn't trying to placate those who will hate us anyway.
If releasing the report, in our role as a free society, is OK, how about torture as a way to try to protect ourselves. Is that OK?
One wit at another local paper said, in essence, "Yes," offering up the classic "But Jimmy's doing it too!" defense so convincing to 4-year-olds. He carefully explained that the Islamic State rapes and kills, suggesting that this justifies our own loathsome tactics.
"But it might be useful to realize that while we might feel queasy about what we did, the Islamic State is immune from hand-wringing after they cut American throats."
Useful? In what way? He never comes out and says it — the timidity of bullies — but the implication is, we're facing these tough guys, so we better be tough guys too. They have no self-doubt; why should we?
A few questions he never asks but we can:
Wouldn't committing the kind of horrors they do make us just like them?
Couldn't the ''hand-wringing" that you condemn also be referred to as "thinking?"
Would you say that cutting off people's heads has been a success strategy for the Islamic State? Did it not end up hurting their cause, in the same way that torturing people hurt America's cause?
Here's the bottom line, and it's sad that so few people see it. Torture doesn't work, but even if it did it would still be bad, because that isn't what America is about. The fact that something works to enhance security is not a recommendation. China has a vast system of gulags and is a far more stable society than the United States because anyone who dissents can be shipped off to prison. Their security is certainly enhanced. Should we do that too?
When the report was first released, when some were talking about whether it should have been withheld, I thought of Turkey, where to this day it is against the law to talk about the 1915 Armenian genocide because it makes the Turks look bad. And Japan, where the right wing is trying to suppress Japan's brutal history of World War II atrocities, so as not to have their nationalistic preening undermined by the stark evidence of where such pride once led them.
How does that make Japan look? And do we want to do that too? Are we a great nation because when we do stuff that's wrong, we don't talk about it, so we don't look bad to those who expect better of us?
Not my country. Not America. The Economist summed it up perfectly in one simple sentence: "ALL countries fail to live up to the ethical standards they set themselves; only a few have the moral purpose to examine their lapses in the public square."
Amen. Oh, and for those who haven't figured it out yet, the correct answer is: B.