I have no problem with rare but aggressive interrogation by the CIA to save innocent lives when time is of the essence. I find it hard to understand the opposition. Let thousands of innocents die to allow their killer to feel good about himself. That is immoral.
This raises the infamous ticking bomb scenario, probably best known to viewers of 24.
Should we be able to do "whatever is necessary" to save thousands?
The question is not so simple. Here are several responses:
1) No one has yet documented a single instance of a legitimate ticking bomb scenario during the war on terror. Not one. It is an unproven hypothetical. The true ticking bomb scenario would result from the capture of someone with essential information about which we already had actionable intelligence that was going to occur within 24 hours or less. This rules out, just on its face, over 99.9% of all our captives.
2) Even in a ticking bomb scenario, there is no empirical evidence that torture or enhanced interrogation techniques will yield better quality information, or yield that information faster than standard, accepted interrogation techniques. As unpopular as this conclusion is with pro-torture advocates, virtually every single objective study of torture or enhanced interrogation has reached exactly the same conclusion that Dr. Jeanine Bell of Indiana University reached in 2005:
Looking at popular discourse about torture, this Essay recognizes widespread belief in what it calls the torture myth - the idea that torture is the most effective interrogation practice. In reality, this Essay argues, in addition to moral and legal problems, the use of torture carries with it a host of practical problems which seriously blunt its effectiveness. This Essay maintains that contrary to the myth, torture doesn't always produce the desired information and, in the cases in which it does, it may not produce it in a timely fashion. In the end the Essay concludes, that any marginal benefit of torture is low because traditional techniques of interrogation may be as good, and possibly even better at producing valuable intelligence without torture's tremendous costs.
3) Our captives at Gitmo are no longer in possession of such time-sensitive information by the time they reach that facility, if they ever had it in the first place. That's just a matter of definition. Nobody reaches Gitmo from Iraq of Afghanistan in less than 72 hours after capture. Subjecting those prisoners, as Congressman Dana Rohrabacher himself characterizes it, to "demeaning and degrading" treatment therefore has absolutely nothing to do with effective interrogation techniques, enhanced or otherwise.
4) The continued use of the ticking bomb scenario requires us to start down a very slippery slope. If it's acceptable to use torture to save thousands of innocents, why not hundreds? Why not one? If it saves one child. . . .
Have any of our advocates of enhanced interrogation stopped to consider the fact that the exact same argument could be advanced by US domestic law enforcement officers every hour of every day of the year? How many times do law enforcement officials have American citizens in custody with the sure and certain knowledge that these people possess detailed knowledge of violent acts to come, acts that could be prevent if only we could dispense with that pesky presumption of innocence, that restriction against cruel and unusual punishment, and just haul out the thumbscrews or the wet towels for the water board?
Curiously, a terrorist suspect apprehended inside the US with actionable, immediate, ticking-bomb type knowledge could not, under the law, be water boarded, because of the Constitutional protections given to all suspects, regardless of citizenship or legal status.
So why is it acceptable with enemy combatants detained outside our borders? Like calories that don't count if you consume them at a charity event, apparently torture doesn't count if Americans do it outside of our borders.
All of which raises the real question: given that we know, and that our leaders have known for a long time, that (a) torture is ineffective, and (b) the ticking bomb scenario is unrealistic, then why do we continue to utilize "enhanced interrogation" techniques, and why do otherwise admirable American citizens continue to support such use (in numbers larger than their presidential approval ratings)?
I think that the answer is payback. We don't like appearing weak to our enemies, who regularly behead their captives on video. We don't like the idea of letting terrorists get away with it by lounging about in a comfortable American prison while our soldiers are in harm's way. Even though we know it doesn't work, it feels good to send the scum a message.
And if that isn't disturbing, and you need another reason to reject the idea of torture, try Luke 6: 27-28.