There's a lot of talk once again as to whether the CIA should or should not have water boarded captured terrorists and what in fact torture is. In any debate whether or not torture should be used against military enemies, or anyone for that matter, philosophy tells us to first define our terms.

 

It has been said in a recent Democratic report released by the Senate that prisoners were water boarded, forced to stand up for hours, deprived of sleep, forced to undress in public, and placed in small confined spaces. To me this is not torture. My definition of torture is to threaten and/or cause permanent physical and/or psychological harm to an individual.

 

My definition does not accept the standard definition of inflicting pain on someone. Inflicting pain could be showing an unveiled and scantily clothed woman to a Moslem. It is far too subjective. Severe pain that leads to permanent damage is more to the point.

 

My definition would include things like cutting one's fingers off one by one, poking out an eye, cutting ones tongue out, administering electric shocks, or threatening or carrying out an execution of one’s child, spouse, or mother or father. Compared with this latter list, the former list pales by comparison. There is "torture" like forced nudity, and then there is TORTURE! We do not condone torture in this country and drawing that line by definition and policy becomes critical in order to know where that line is.

 

The CIA report goes on to allege that crimes were committed and the culprits should be tried and convicted of torture, which is against the Geneva Convention's international laws of conduct. Some would like to see CIA agents convicted of war crimes. Such a move would amount to retroactive punishment since the use of enhanced interrogation techniques were considered legal under the law at the time. They have since, for better or for worse, been re-defined.

 

Such retroactive punishment would make every person using drones to find and kill terrorist targets today, a possible war criminal tomorrow. It would establish a principle that would undercut the very foundation of the rule of law in this country. By this new standard If President Truman were still alive we could try and convict him of war crimes for choosing to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and maiming tens of thousands of woman and children. Yet no one is willing to bring that little incident up. Killing and maiming people with drones today, and with atomic bombs in the past, are evidently OK, but having them stand too long is "torture" and a potential war crime offense.

 

Certainly if any CIA agent or policy can be found to have been illegal at the time and violated, such criminals should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the existing laws. But it is not torture that should be banned as illegal; it is the illegal use of force. All forms of force that are initiated against individuals is wrong and should be outlawed, but all forms of force to protect oneself are justified. By this standard dropping a bomb on an enemy is not torture, and neither is retaliating against terrorists with force to gain information that will protect the lives of American citizens. Gaining information from an enemy through the use of force is defensive by its nature. It’s part of war. That's what we have a government for – to fight that war.

 

Which leads us to the next question: should the CIA report have been made public? My answer is absolutely not. We vote in representatives of We The People to make those important decisions of state on our behalf. The most important are usually decisions of national security. If the federal government has one function, it is the protection of the United States from force abroad.

 

These decisions are often complicated - so complicated in fact that our representatives usually appoint a sub-committee of experts on the subject to advise them on what is legal and illegal, practical and impractical. When there are disputes within government, between agencies, or concerns of corruption or the violation of laws and policies, these must be resolved within government, not by the public. Opening up a report on the workings of the CIA, which was set up as a secretive organization by Congress, is a contradiction, and an absurdity!

 

How can Joe Blow decide on the questions of what is or is not torture, whether torture is legal or illegal, whether it was effective or not effective in protecting the nation from harm? And why should he be asked to! These questions should be left to our representatives. This is what we hire them for. The specter of the United States opening up its dirty laundry in front of the whole world and our enemies does nothing to protect this country and everything to hurt it. I'm not arguing that an investigation and report should not have been made; I am saying that the results should have been provided only to those in charge of making decisions on policy and abuses of policy.

 

Any wrongdoing can be resolved "in-house". Any violations of policy or individual rights can by prosecuted without divulging every allegation that's made against government officials. And if it ever comes to the public mistrusting government so much, we can always fire (vote out) our president and our representatives and replace them with new governors of our affairs. But no, the Senate chose to release a report on the CIA alleging misconduct and make it a public matter for the whole world to judge, to say nothing of the damage it will do to the CIA's ability to have anonymous sources gather vital information in the future. Information gathering may dry up for years due to the Senate’s move. And this in the name of "transparency".   Hasn’t anyone told the Senate that secrets are not supposed to be “transparent"?

 

You have to ask, whose side are they on anyway, these people who gave such an advantage to our enemies? Certainly in the years ahead we will be less safe, more mistrusted, and more vulnerable to attack than ever before. We have given the enemies of this country an opening with which to penetrate our borders. And we did it in the name of a false morality that smacks of retribution and intellectual smugness. 

 

Those that are against the harsh techniques that were used on enemy captives usually argue the moral point: "We are better than that". Such advocates may be moral people themselves, but their moral outrage is misplaced. They allow their morality to be used against them. The great philosopher Ayn Rand called it "the sanction of the victim". People allow themselves to be victimized by their own good sense of morality.

 

This debate over torture is an excellent example of that point. It is a major error to bestow one’s own sense of morality on evil people. They don't deserve your morality. They deserve theirs! They would not hesitate to exterminate us all by any means possible --nuclear, chemical, you name it. They count on our morality for the means to that end. To withdraw that moral code from such men is one of the most moral things one can do to defeat such evil. 

 

Imagine a murderer that kidnapped and buried a hostage alive. You arrest him and demand that he tells you where he buried his victim. He agrees as long as you promise you'll let him go if he tells you. You promise. After he tells you, you slap handcuffs on him and arrest him.

 

 "But you promised!" he screams, outraged.

 

 And you simply look at him and say "I lied".  

 

This is an example of not allowing an evil murderer to use your morality against you. You are not "better than that"…you're smarter than that.

 

By the morality of freedom we established in the Constitution of the United States, we barred force from society as a means of settling matters. But to keep order we allow force in retaliation and defense of one’s life and property. The initiation of force is immoral, while the defense of oneself with force is based on morality. It is justifiable force under our system of laws, as long as it is defensive force.

 

In war where the enemy is trying to kill the people of a nation, any use of force is justified to defend that nation. We are at war. Our enemy wants to exterminate us. Not getting the information necessary to prevent him from doing so is not "being better than that". It's putting the lives of all Americans in danger of being massacred. It is in fact IMMORAL.

 

Paul Nathan

Paulnathan.biz