The torture debate in America today is bifurcated into two groups, each of which has its own rhetoric on the issue. The first group, largely Democratic, couches waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, etc. as either independently torture, or as having the cumulative effect of torture when used in concert. The second group, largely Republican but also including the media, acknowledges that torture does exist, but that the above techniques are simply “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs). Furthermore, the second group holds to the maxim that nothing the United States can do is torture, because a fundamental tenet of the United States is that we do not torture. Teleologically, then, the United States is incapable of torture. Former President George W. Bush went on record in 2005 saying something to this effect, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had this to say to The Economist:
As a British court noted, waterboarding is not torture. Waterboarding has been routinely used to train American pilots in the military to understand what interrogation techniques they might encounter. The reference to the Khmer Rouge is the kind of moral equivalence President Reagan warned against in his “Evil Empire” speech in 1983. The Khmer Rouge killed millions of people, annihilated the Cambodian intellectuals, and was among the worst inhumane movements in the last century. The United States has used specific enhanced interrogation techniques in specific circumstances against very high-level terrorists for the purpose of saving innocent civilian lives, not for taking them.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the advocates for torturous EITs do not just call a spade a spade and man up to what they are doing. Instead of engaging in the legal tap dance that Bush 43 detailed last Friday and in the past, why not just call it torture. That may not be popular, but everyone knows that is what waterboarding is, and what it has been classified as for hundreds of years since it was known as the “water cure.”
A new poll by the AP shows that a slight majority of Americans (52%) believe torture—no description given, just torture—”is at least sometimes justified to obtain information about terrorist activities from suspects, an increase from 38 percent in 2005 when the AP last asked the question.” In light of this increasing number of Americans who think good old torture is justified, why didn’t the Bush administration, or any of the supporters of EITs/torture for that matter, just make an honest argument to the American people? Nothing binds us to our treaties, and with enough pressure I’m sure the Bush White House could have gotten the authorization for the once Republican-controlled Congress to do whatever it wanted to anyone labeled a terrorist.
Yet only a few are willing to say with any sincerity, “Yes, let’s torture all of them.” I suppose this is the nature of politics, to be unwilling to tell the truth even when the truth is evident. If they really listened to what Americans want, though, they may find the strength to advocate torture in earnest. This would not give them the moral high ground, however, but is this debate not similar to so many other moral quandaries facing America? We allow plenty of amoral and immoral things, and use the convenience of distance to absolve ourselves of any responsibility.
-Michael E. van Landingham