Is Torture Ever Moral?

After opening the door to a truth
commission to investigate torture by the CIA of al-Qaida
subjects, and leaving the door open to prosecution of
higher-ups, President Obama walked the cat back.

He is now opposed to a truth
commission. That means it is dead. He is no longer
interested in prosecutions. That means no independent
counsel—for now.

Sen. Harry Reid does not want any
"commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what
the facts are."
Thus, there will be none. The place to find out
the facts, says the majority leader, is the intelligence
committee of Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Though belated, White House
recognition that high-profile public hearings on the
interrogation techniques"
used by the CIA in the
Bush-Cheney years could divide the nation and rip this
city apart is politically wise.

For any such investigation must
move up the food chain from CIA interrogators, to White
House lawyers, to the Cabinet officers who sit on the
National Security Council, to Dick Cheney, to The
Decider himself.

And what is the need to re-air
America`s dirty linen before a hostile world, when the
facts are already known.

The CIA did use harsh treatment on
al-Qaida. That treatment was sanctioned by White House
and Justice Department lawyers. The NSC, Cheney and
President Bush did sign off. And Obama has ordered all
such practices discontinued.

This is not a question of
"What did the president know and when did he know it?" It is a
question of the legality and morality of what is already
known. And on this, the country is rancorously split.

Many contend that torture is
inherently evil, morally outrageous and legally
impermissible under both existing U.S. law and the
Geneva Convention on prisoners of war.

Moreover, they argue, torture does
not work.

Its harvest is hatred, deceptions
and lies. And because it is cowardly and cruel, torture
degrades those who do it, as well as those to whom it is
done. It instills a spirit of revenge in its victims.

When the knowledge of torture is
made public, as invariably it is, it besmirches
America`s good name and serves as a recruiting poster
for our enemies and a justification to use the same
degrading methods on our men and women.

And it makes us no better than the

Chinese communist brain-washers of the Korean War,

Japanese war criminals
who tortured U.S. POWs and
the jailers at the
Hanoi Hilton
who tortured Sen. John McCain.

Moreover, even if done in a few
monitored cases, where it seems to be the only way to
get immediate intelligence to save hundreds or thousands
from imminent terror attack, down the chain of command
they know it is being done. Thus, we get sadistic
copycat conduct at
Abu Ghraib
by enlisted personnel to amuse themselves
at midnight.

While the legal and moral case
against torture is compelling, there is another side.

Let us put aside briefly the
explosive and toxic term.

Is it ever moral to kill? Of
course. We give guns to

and soldiers, and honor them as heroes when
they use their guns to save lives.

Is it ever moral to inflict
excruciating pain? Of course. Civil War doctors who cut
off arms and legs in battlefield hospitals saved many
soldiers from death by gangrene.

The morality of killing or
inflicting severe pain depends, then, not only on the
nature of the act, but on the circumstances and motive.


Beltway Snipers
deserved death sentences. The Navy
Seal snipers who killed those three Somali pirates and

Captain Richard Phillips
deserve medals.

Consider now Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, mastermind of 9-11, which sent

3,000 Americans to horrible deaths
, and who was
behind, if he did not do it himself, the beheading of

Danny Pearl.

Even many opponents against torture
will concede we have the same right to execute Khalid
Mohammed as we did Timothy McVeigh. But if we have a
right to kill him, do we have no moral right to
waterboard him for 20 minutes to force him to reveal
plans and al-Qaida accomplices to save thousands of
American lives?

Americans are divided.

a film based on a true story, where an innocent man
suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell is sent to an
Arab country and tortured, won rave reviews.

But more popular was
a film in which Liam Neeson, an ex-spy, has a daughter
kidnapped by white slavers in Paris, whom he tortures
for information to rescue her and bring her home.

Certainly, Cheney and Bush, who
make no apologies for what they authorized to keep
America safe for seven and a half years, should be held
to account. But so, too, should Barack Obama, if U.S.
citizens die in a terror attack the CIA might have
prevented, had its interrogators not been tied to an
Army Field Manual written for dealing with soldiers, not
al-Qaida killers who favor "soft targets"
such as

, airliners and

office buildings.



Patrick J. Buchanan


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