Monday, November 14, 2005
Just as Cindy Sheehan's supporters claimed her experience blessed her with an 'absolute moral authority', to too does John McCain, by virtue of his treatment during his captivity, claim the moral high ground in making his case for banning torture.
But John McCain has climbed on a soapbox he doesn't deserve to be standing on. Remember, McCain's experienced being tortured, not torturing someone else. If we want persepctive on what it is like to be tortured, in how to survive being tortured, he's the man. But if want we want is a rational discussion of the costs and benefits of employing torture as a tool with which to protect ourselves, McCain is no more qualified to speak on that subject than Mother Cindy is qualified to dictate our military policy. If anything, the two of them have been so twisted by their respective losses that they have lost all perspective of the bigger picture. To paraphrase Patton: we don't want to be led by the guy who were shot down, captured, imprisoned and tortured. We want to be led by the guy who did the shooting down, capturing, imprisoning and torturing.
Perhaps because he doesn't know what he is arguing about, his arguments for outlawing torture are weak. For example, he cites (and in only the third paragraph of the column) his experience in giving the North Vietnamese false information in order to get them to stop torturing him. That may have happened, but, if anything, it proves that the North Vietnamese were more interested in beating him for the sake of beating him than they were interested in gaining useful information. He also cites approvingly the Israeli Supreme Court's decision in 1999 to outlaw "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment. But why emulate the behavior of a people who are doing their best to make it easy for their enemy to kill them and drive them out of their own country? Does McCain think the Palestinians were impressed by what the Israelis did? He claims that we shouldn't torture, not because the terrorists will respect our decision, but because our 'next' enemy will. But how does he know that? He doesn't know who our next enemy will be, nor whether they will be an enemy that tortures its captives. And he says that we shouldn't torture our enemies, as they do to us, because we are 'better than they are'. But we don't do things because of what other people do or don't do (would we provide our captives with prostitutes if that is what our enemy did for their captives?). We set policy based on whether it helps America or whether it hurts America. And I have yet to see a single fact that our using torture as a means of gaining information (as opposed to torture or mistreatment of detainees for the amusement of the captor) hurts us more than it helps.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, McCain even undercuts his own arguments when he acknowledges that a true ticking bomb situation can justify the use of 'coercive interrogations'. So, as the old line goes, we've established that McCain is in favor of torture, all we're left to do is determine the extent to which he does. If torturing someone is justifiable in order to prevent a nuclear attack on New York, why isn't it justifiable to prevent a carbomb attack in Baghdad?
His call for outlawing torture and other coercive interrogation techniques is criminal. Torturing suspects to gain information is a weapon that, if used properly, can save more American lives than any single M4 carbine, any single tank, any single cruise missile.. and denying our troops the use of weapons that can save lives only hurts us and helps the enemy. Les Aspin lost his job because 18 Army Rangers lost their lives in Somalia in large part because he didn't give the Rangers access to the armored vehicles they needed to protect themselves. Rumsfeld (deservedly) took flak over the lack of armor protection for military vehicles in Iraq. Thousands of US troops lost their lives in Vietnam because Johnson and McNamara tied the hands of the military. It is wrong, wrong, wrong to send our troops into battle and not give them every opportunity there is to defend themselves.
McCain's proposed ban elevates the well being of our captives over that of our fellow Americans. Unpatriotic? Maybe it is.