Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Few Words About Torture

There are certain situations where I feel my rhetoric regarding an issue is valuable. I can, with little to no prompting from outside forces, give a fairly decent critical analysis of a horror movie for instance, or make a short, insightful joke about politics. I am no Winston Churchill, but I know when I can and cannot contribute to a conversation.

Torture is one of the few topics that I shy away from talking about, simply because I know my arguments against it come up short most of the time.

And I'll go on the record as saying it, I am against torture. More specifically, I am against waterboarding. But, as I have stated, my argument against is extremely poor, because it deals primarily in the context of dignity, which, as we all know, means very little when faced with wars in the Middle East, acts of terrors, panicked citizenry and irate politicians.

There is a phrase that "patriots" love to use: "America is the greatest country in the world." It's hard to outright disagree with that statement if you yourself are an American, partly because it requires such a low amount of pride, but these days, mainly for fear of backlash for even thinking anything contrary to America's superiority. Whenever I hear this phrase though, I want to ask "Why?"

I do not think that my country is the greatest in the world simply because it was the one in which I was born. In fact, if you put a gun to the old noodle, no country can be called the greatest, but I digress. There are many, many things about America that make it great, but that certainly does not make it infallible. There are bad things that happen in America and bad things that happen to America, but even when wronged, we should not be allowed to behave however we please.

International politics are not a game of Calvinball.

I'm frequently amazed that the idiom "Two wrongs don't make a right," hasn't occurred -- even in an ironic manner -- in this debate over waterboarding yet. Yes, America is not infallible, nor will it ever be, and yes, America is not the greatest country in the world, nor is such a thing possible, but the one thing that is more important than being the greatest is striving to become the greatest. If we want to be the type of state that other states respect, we need to be (or pretend) that we are above crude techniques and inhumane practices. Always. Always, always, always, and not just when we are not at war.

There actually are several good arguments as to why we should not torture detainees (short aside: the language we become accostumed to using speaks volumes about our feelings. Think about what people would say if we called Gitmo inmates "POWs" or "citizens with suspended rights".) I have heard the one about not receiving good information following torture (i.e. saying anything just to cease the discomfort,) the one about waterboarding being too far down the line in the spectrum of interrogation, the one about "quid pro quo" regarding American soldiers and so on. My argument is not a good one; it is not convincing nor is it practical, but it does -- and I firmly believe this -- open the door for America to stop saying that it is the greatest country in the world and start thinking of new ways to act like it is the greatest country in the world.
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