According to the Washington Post, the CIA is torturing prisoners in Afghanistan. The best quote from the article: “‘If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job,’ said one official who has supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists.” Fun stuff. Reportedly, the CIA has also turned prisoners over to various countries for interrogation, including Syria. Last time I looked, Syria was not near the top of our friendly powers list.
I believe that these tactics have made it easier to carry out operations against Al Qaeda. No question at all. Information is power.
I also believe that these tactics are flat out wrong, because I think that sometimes we must sacrifice efficiency for the sake of our values. Or, if you like, for the sake of those human rights so casually dismissed above.
Bill Whittle wrote a piece on gun control, which many conservative bloggers linked to with great relish. It is burdened with a great deal of irrelevant anti-European sentiment, which I find ignorant and superficial. I could write an entire post on the ways in which his snideness about France trivializes the substantial and noble risks taken by the French resistance during World War II.
However, he said one thing in particular which I think is exceedingly relevant here. Those who would defend the use of torture in our conflict with Al Qaeda would do well to consider it, and how it relates to the matter of torture, rather than simply waving the matter off with some comment about how much more efficient this strategy is. He’s talking about the dangers of totalitarianism here: “Try and understand this about Americans like myself and others who can look such horrors in the eye: We are not going out like that. Get it? We’ll put up with handgun murders if we have to, but we are not going down that road.”
That’s a reasonable statement. Yes, handgun ownership may result in deaths. He’s thought about that and he thinks it’s worth the price. Freedom is worth some sacrifice.
Now think about that in relation to torture. Is it worth giving up our ideals in order to keep ourselves a little safer? Is safety more important than knowing that we are not the kind of country who tortures other human beings?
You can have a pretty serious argument about that. I know what my answer is. Yours may be different, and I don’t think that disagreement here is insane or unwise. It’s just different priorities. The important thing is not to pretend that there’s no possible debate, and that the tradeoff is inevitable. This is not a question to be handwaved.