Normally, I am loath to revisit a posting in an attempt to clarify and explain just what I meant. It’s a tenet of writing to me that pieces should stand on their own, without explaining from the author. But when I write a serious piece that my critics take seriously and my supporters call satire, I take that as a sign that the original piece most likely had some serious flaws and could probably use a little re-working.
So therefore I’m going to do something I haven’t done before, and would rather not do again. I’m going to repost that piece in the extended section, with a few modifications. I’m not going to change a word of it, but I am going to add some comments in italics and change the order of a couple of sections.
First, I should spell out what I intended to do with this piece. I was trying to construct a progressive narration, “thinking out loud” as I wrote, spelling out precisely my thought process during the issue.
First, there was the item that caught my attention:
As I’ve heard more and more accusations of “torture” of detainees at Guantanamo, and the rhetoric spirals more and more out of control (list me as firmly in the camp that would like to see Senator Durbin horse-whipped), and comparisons made to Nazi death camps, Soviet death camps, and Cambodian killing fields — just to name a few comparisons.
Next, my initial opinion:
Others have decried the damnable lies, the outrageous exaggerations, and the borderline-treasonous libels of our troops. Me, I’m looking at another tack.
As I’ve learned over the past year or so, you can’t reason with someone who didn’t reach their position through reason. The whole “flushed Koran” crock, for example, should have been laughed at as physically impossible, but instead it’s become a rallying cry. People insist that it did happen, and insist that the US “apologize” and “punish” the guilty — for something that quite simply never happened and never could have happened.
Then, my first, angry reaction:
So I’m not going to bother arguing with the “close the Guantanamo death camp” morons. Instead, I have another idea.
There’s an old aphorism that says “as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.” Since we’re already being punished for “torturing” these detainees, why don’t we go ahead and do it already?
We already know beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of these detainees have extensive knowledge and experience as terrorists. It’s time to take the handcuffs off our interrogators and let them do whatever they believe is necessary to get the information we need out of them. Let’s use pain, discomfort, drugs, deception, anything we can on these terrorists. Since we’re already suffering the consequences of using torture, it only makes sense to me that we gain the benefits of such. Let’s show the world just what good old American ingenuity, inventiveness, and resources can achieve.
Significant change here: the following was moved up from the end of the original piece. As the “final word,” it came across as the conclusion, and that was a mistake. It was an afterthought, and should not have been tagged on to the end.
Alan Dershowitz has an interesting position on torture: he’d like to see judges to have the authority to issue “torture warrants.” In cases where there is a clearly identified immediate threat to innocent life, authorities could use extraordinary measures of interrogation (yes, torture) to get information from suspects. The caveats are that the threat must be clear, specific, and imminent (the two most cited examples are the buried kidnap victim and the ticking bomb), and any information gained will be inadmissible in court.
Finally, the true conclusion, rejecting the initial response:
In fact, I can only see two drawbacks to this proposal. The first is purely practical — torture tends to get you the information the tortoree thinks you want, not necessarily the truth. This was borne out during the Inquisition and witch-hunts, when “confessions” were inspired not by a compulsion to tell the truth, but to say whatever it would take to end the torment. This can be somewhat countered by drugs and highly skilled interrogators, but nonetheless remains a very real danger.
The other reason is a bit more abstract, but I think far more significant. We are the good guys. We don’t torture, maim, and kill people arbitrarily; we fight, we punish, we kill those that do.
In the Guantanamo case, I don’t think a case can be made for the imminent threat. These guys have been locked up for a long time; most likely any specific knowledge they might have is obsolete. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a great deal from them. And it doesn’t mean that they can’t be continued to be held until the end of hostilities.