What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

The Senate Report on Torture

The US Senate has delivered a torture report. The way it is being reported, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every third American, way back in August of 2001, was sitting around in desperate agitation, wondering how to best reform the laws and regulations, so that he could torture suspicious Arabs.

The Senate report is being used to demonize our country and those who fought Jihad. It should not. On the contrary, while it shows that we did something wrong — we are not making excuse — it demonstrates exactly why we must continue to fight Jihad by every moral means.

The report is clear: We tortured people after ‎9/11. “We,” because it’s not all Dick Cheney's fault: We the people created the political climate that demanded it.

For several years following September 11, that mysterious forgotten context, Americans authorized their spies and soldiers to mistreat Captains of Jihad, should they find mistreatment necessary to the purpose of collection of vital information. Americans authorized certain tortures. We did this, and our spies and soldiers carried it out.

So for several years any Muslim who was thought by our agents to be a Captain of Jihad, might be abducted and subjected to abuse, isolation, deprivation, cruel manipulation. Mostly these abducted Muslims were indeed committed and active terrorist plotters; but on occasion (somewhere around 1 in 5 detainees) our men were wrong and innocents or pitiful dupes were tortured. That is a candid summary.

Now a Senate report has us all revisiting that frantic episode. It supplies an appalling wealth of gory details. Its focus is the Central Intelligence Agency, but of course the rot of torture spread. Numerous military units are implicated. Abuse by mercenaries has even reached federal courts. But this report should clearly settle for good the question: did America authorize torture, circa 2001-06? The answer is yes.

Still, one doubts that any real reflection or permanent good will come out of a rehashing of the episode, unless the proper context is always present in mind.

It’s useful for some narratives to overlook that September 11th supplies the context for the Senate report. It’s useful to pretend that crazy orders issued from on high, spurred by some nameless suspicion of the Islamic religion, and pliable agents and soldiers carried them out.

But if America had really been committed to the kind of bloodlust of which she is now accused, suspicious Arabs and other Muslims would have been randomly incinerated by superheated jet fuel, exsanguinated by jagged box cutters, or made to jump from a quarter mile onto pavement. These tortures were inflicted on thousands of Americans on September 11th, on the Jihadist principle that there is no innocent American.

If they could have, they would have made the falls farther and the deaths more prolonged and the pain greater. They would have shattered more bodies and filled more lungs with superheated gas.

They will not file reports and call for repentance. Our enemies count no American innocent. Thus all of us can be abducted and tortured to death, without qualification. Our corpses may be defiled for purposes of propaganda.

Its very existence, then, is the way in which the Senate report shows us that we must never give up the fight against the Jihad. We have every authorization of justice to wage war, to whatever end, that this wicked doctrine and all its adherents might be subdued and their evil restrained. We owe no justice to bloodthirsty dogmas of vengeance and retribution from an alien religion.

Comments (8)

"We the people created the political climate that demanded it."

I did?

Not *all* of us did that, Chicken. But a great many people who formally and in principle oppose torture contributed to "the political climate" in less concrete ways. For example, somewhat directly by talking up demands to "do something" about Bin Laden and his ilk. Or people who wondered, aloud and repeatedly, about "how difficult can it be to find people who run a terrorist training camp? Or rather indirectly pushing a point of view of "better over there than over here" (because mal-treatment was a lot easier to carry out over there than here). Maybe a more precise way to say it would be "created the political climate in which some people demanded it and a great many more ignored it, winked at it, or permitted it."

We owe no justice to bloodthirsty dogmas of vengeance and retribution from an alien religion.

True. As this episode shows us, it is far too easy to go from "error has no rights" to "those in error have no rights." I pray that We the People learn to make that distinction.

Well said, CJ. That distinction is indeed vital.

Chicken -- folks who took early public stands against torture may point to those to absolve themselves of participation in the "political climate that demanded" torture. Our former colleague ZippyCatholic was out in front on this, for instance. Speaking for myself, I only first said anything critical of the detainee program in June of 2002, basically nine months after the program began.

The fact is that a huge group of johnny-come-latelies is misappropriating the mantle of honorable opposition to torture. Many of the Democrats who caused the report to be compiled and released, for instance, can take their sanctimony and shove it as far as I'm concerned. These people had access to the plain facts years before they made bold to oppose torture.

Generally speaking, though, it is fair to say that in America immediately after Sept. 11th, enhanced interrogation was popularly supported by a very broad supermajority of citizens. That is why phrases like we the people are apposite.

Part of the difficulty, Paul, at least from the standpoint of practical politics, was that a lot of people who would use any tool to hand in order to beat up on America had found in these interrogation techniques a more-than-handy tool with which to beat up on America. Wagon-circling isn't just a left-wing phenomenon, naturally, as this sordid episode (not to mention the broad support for the Iraq War among people who later came to have very sensible reservations and regrets) demonstrates quite clearly. Bush Derangement Syndrome had one very unfortunate side-effect, or mirror image--what we might call Bush Rationalization Syndrome.

For a lot of people, it was impossible even on a strictly emotional level to make common cause with the insane, personal hatred being directed at George W. Bush by the left from the moment Al Gore attacked the fabric of American civic life by his refusal to concede defeat. It's easy to forget that 9/11 wasn't the only factor that had emotions running high and reason running scared. Now, that's not to make excuses, by any means. But it's an unfortunate truth that for a lot of pundits, linking arms with scum like Michael Moore--all while trying to make plain that one was not participating in the convulsion of irrationality that he represented--was just not palatable. It became easy to dismiss concerns over torture as more opportunistic hyperbole on the part of leftist conspiracy-mongers who, let it not be forgotten, were also busily instructing us that jet fuel cannot melt steel and that New York Jews had known to stay home on 9/11.

Again, there aren't any excuses, and of course I know that "to understand is to forgive," etc. But it was not only normal patriotic Americans who created the political climate that made these things possible. There was plenty of wolf-crying going on as well. The Senate report is, hopefully, the last gasp of that unforgivable hypocrisy and opportunism on the part of Congressional Democrats in the post-9/11 era.

What do you all think of the estimable John C. Wright's argument that what the Senate report described was not torture?

I'll say for my part that I can find no obvious flaw except to say that goes against my bare moral intuition, which I admit is hardly an argument. But something doesn't sit right.


MarcAnthony - I read Wright's post when it came out. I haven't followed the discussion in the comments, but his argument seemed to me to boil down to "if it's not thumbscrews, the rack, the boot, etc, it's not torture." I think he's wrong and at best, it's a distinction of degree and not one of kind.

IMO, waterboarding, mock executions, exposure, severe beatings, and 8 days of sleep deprivation are certainly torture. "Walling" and slaps upside the head aren't.

Zippy extensively addressed the "gawrsh it's so hard to know what torture is" question here: http://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/why-i-believe-waterboarding-prisoners-is-torture-and-you-should-too/

IMO, waterboarding, mock executions, exposure, severe beatings, and 8 days of sleep deprivation are certainly torture. "Walling" and slaps upside the head aren't.

I agree and add thar even if we can grant that certain acts do not rise to the level of torture, that doesn't make them moral. Even if slapping a restrained prisoner upside the head isn't torture it is still highly dishonorable and shouldn't be done by anyone claiming to be on the side of righteousness.

On a related topic, I recently became aware of this Tolkien quote. I offer it for interest mainly, so I hope we might be spared caviling about Tolkien not being the Magisterium, or "It's just fiction!" and so on:

But even before this wickedness of Morgoth was suspected the Wise in the Eldar Days taught always that the Orcs were not ‘made’ by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil. They might have become irredeemable (at least by Elves and Men), but they remained within the Law. That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty and treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost. This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of War it was not always heeded.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), 419

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