The big news last weekend, other than President Obama's (gasp!) handshake with Hugo Chavez, was that the previously-classified "torture memos" were irresponsibly declassified, revealing state secrets, and forfeiting pivotal information in the long war against "Islamofascism."
No sooner were the memos made public did President Bush's remaining supporters on talk radio and Fox News jump to the microphone in a race to be the first to claim that President Obama was playing politics with America's security. Sean Hannity called it "stupid." Rush Limbaugh called the president "naieve." Bill O'Reilly doesn't want to use guidelines found in the army field manual, while in the same conversation, Karl Rove called the action "lunacy" and "a psychological victory for the terrorists."
All of these outrages reveal the twisted logic that suggests that "enhanced interrogation techniques" actually make the country safer.
As tempting as this view is, it all acts on an assumption that waterboarding, the most controversial of the techniques, saves lives. Apparently saying "Waterboarding isn't torture" enough times makes it true (or deciding that anything said because of waterboarding makes it true as well). Or saying "But waterboarding worked!" enough times, even if it might be a little morally questionable, makes it right. If Machiavelli would have approved, then I guess that's all that matters.
We routinely hear that these techniques kept America safe. After 9/11, we hear, we couldn't take any chances. After 9/11, the government didn't know what to do so they used waterboarding to get to the bottom of the issue and try to prevent another attack. Let's examine that claim.
Before 9/11, Osama bin Laden had declared war on the United States (1996) for stationing soldiers on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, supporting its corrupt regime, and offering unconditional support to the Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians.
In 2000, the naval destroyer USS Cole was targeted for bombing by bin Laden. Conservatives, especially since 9/11, have routinely pointed to the bombing of the Cole as evidence of Bill Clinton's negligence concerning the terrorist threat. In this case, they are right. And since they are right, it undermines the claim that torture or waterboarding works and is necessary in the "Global War on Terror."
This shows that the terrorist threat was bubbling just beneath the surface and that the U.S. government could have begun taking action against terrorists because they were showing themselves to be a threat to the U.S., or at least making the U.S. a target. And put this on top of the fact that the government already knew bin Laden was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Surely someone could have connected the dots: the Cole, the 1993 bombing, and a declaration, and figured out that something was brewing. For people who were paying attention to U.S. actions around the world, the horrors of 9/11 were not an earth-shattering or earth-changing event, but a predictable event.
So, we should have known that an event like 9/11 was coming. It could have been figured out by following world news through a major national newspaper or reading on the internet. It would not take waterboarding someone to figure out that the country was due for blowback from its foreign policies.
Also consider this: the media habitually tell the American people that the only people who participate in these horrific acts of terror are religious fanatics who desire to die for their faith. Events like 9/11 give credence to this view. So if part of being a terrorist means dying for the cause, why would they reveal anything under waterboarding or torture? Dying is the goal, isn't it? Why would they bother telling anything even if they knew anything if dying is the goal?
I now feel compelled to ask waterboarding defenders this: What did waterboarding 2 people, one of them the supposed mastermind of 9/11, a total of 266 times tell us about the terrorist attacks that curious internet users could not have found out for themselves?
What this boils down to is that torture or "enhanced interrogation" does nothing to make America inherently safer. The real fear that I have regarding these memos is not that by revealing their contents, they make America less safe because terrorists will be able to train for waterboarding. No, the real fear I have is that the contents of these memos will make America less safe because they can be used as a recruiting tool for the terrorists.
Just as the invasion of Iraq fueled terrorist recruiting because it was viewed as the conquest and rape of an innocent Muslim country, these memos will say to the Muslim world "We tortured."
We can debate until Judgment Day whether waterboarding is torture or not but in the Muslim world, they see an imperial power incarcerating Muslims and torturing them. That creates a further incentive for people who might not be inclined to to join the jihad to do so. And that is why this matters.
Our country has made a mess for itself by not understanding our enemy. The waterboarding issue is just another incident of missing the point.
If we want to make the waterboarding issue moot, then we must make the impetus for terrorism moot as well and come home.