Well, that’s what it boils down to, anyway. The arguments made by those on the Right regarding the Bush administration’s use of waterboarding suggests as much and it exposes the moral bankruptcy of what currently constitutes today’s mainstream American Right.
Along with this discussion have been repeated invocations of President Harry Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to end the war in the Pacific. The argument reads: since Japan would never surrender before every man, woman, and child were exhausted to defend the empire, the atomic bombs HAD to be used in order to hasten their surrender. That, of course, ignores the simple fact that even though two atomic bombs were detonated, the Japanese did not fight to every last man, woman, or child.
What this whole discussion of “extraordinary tactics,” be it waterboarding or dropping atomic bombs, reveals is that those who populate the Right, time and again, abandon their principles and the rule of law for pragmatism.
The most compelling argument in favor of waterboarding is that it saves lives. That certainly seems justifiable if waterboarding a suspect means they reveal pivotal information about an impending terror attack.
But what if a waterboarded suspect gives false information because the action being engaged in is indeed torture and he says whatever is necessary to make the pain stop? If that is the case, is waterboarding anything other than torture or sadism?
And what does waterboarding say of us, a country that prosecuted the Japanese for doing the same thing in World War II? Does it say that activities we label “torture” are only torture when it is committed by other regimes? Answering “yes” to that question makes an activity like waterboarding an ethically neutral practice – its morality is determined by who commits it. Japanese waterboarding: evil and a war crime. American waterboarding: good and definitely not torture.
What is truly amazing is the apoplexy of those on the Right regarding the retraction of waterboarding as a counterterrorism measure.
We regularly hear about how waterboarding has indeed saved American lives because the frequently-waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “the mastermind of 9/11,” revealed that there was another terrorist attack slated for the West Coast. There does appear to have been another attack planned for the West Coast, but the great ignored fact is that it was called off by Osama bin Laden himself before 9/11. So how did waterboarding save American lives if the plot he exposed in 2002 was long-before canceled?
But this illusion marches on and the Right, and even a few on the Left, perpetuate that waterboarding is not torture, it worked, and we should continue it.
It is shrouded under the cover of “National Security,” and we can see how those on the Right readily throw away their convictions in favor of expediency.
The argument regularly heard from those waterboard supporters is that it works and if it meant protecting the American people from a terrorist attack, then we should have no problem pouring some water up a terrorist’s nose for 30 seconds.
The worst part is this excuse-making on the Right. How many times in the past couple of weeks have we heard the talking heads saying that “Well, those people cut off heads, we just pour some water up their noses.”
It is probably time to point out that “At least we’re not as bad as them” is not a real argument based on reason or fact. Neither is “Okay, so we waterboarded a guy a whole bunch of times, but it was never for more than 30 seconds!” And neither is “Well, we haven’t done it since 2003” or “It’s not torture, but even if it was, it was only on 3 people and they were terrorists anyway, so it doesn’t count.” Or “Yes, we did sign the Geneva Convention and the terrorists didn’t, so that technically means we don’t have to accord them the rights under it. That means we can torture!”
All of this makes the argument in favor of waterboarding not really about intelligence gathering but revenge. It’s like saying “Okay, maybe waterboarding really is torture, but come on, these people are terrorists. It shouldn’t matter whether waterboarding is against the law or not. They don’t abide by the rules, so we won’t.”
This defense of waterboarding on the Right has gotten so twisted that NOT supporting waterboarding is “disgusting.”
Another much-regurgitated argument was the rhetorical question posed to anyone who dared to question the wisdom of waterboarding: What if we have a suspect who has knowledge of an impending attack and won’t talk unless we waterboard? Or “President Obama, what if, God forbid, your little girls were kidnapped by terrorists and they wouldn’t tell you where they were? Would you waterboard then?”
Well, aside from the obvious fact that that second situation is far-fetched to the point of absurdity, let’s alter that second argument into something just a little more realistic.
Instead of terrorists doing the kidnapping, let’s say your family has been kidnapped by one person. What if they refused to give back your family, even for ransom? Would you murder the kidnapper to save your family? If you did, would you expect to be prosecuted by the law? Is it not still murder if it’s done to a villain? Is torture not actually torture if we say it’s for good purposes?
At best, what the Right is advocating is a disregard of the law because we don’t like it and, at worst, showing that values are expendable.
An example of this could be found on Glenn Beck’s television program on Friday, May 1, 2009. With a live studio audience, Mr. Beck, who has a strong independent streak, rejected the notion that waterboarding is a crime. For those familiar with Glenn Beck either on television or radio, he frequently excoriates politicians who deliberately ignore the Constitution. Yet this time, when the argument gets framed into matters of national security and the hypothetical ticking time bomb, waterboarding is absolutely necessary. In an exchange with libertarian justice Andrew Napolitano, Mr. Beck questions whether the Constitution is a “suicide pact” because it does not allow for presidents to waterboard.
Notice how easily a usually strong-willed conservative abandons the Constitution for the hypothetical ticking time bomb. In the most far-fetched scenario in world history, civilizational annihilation, the Constitution HAS to be dropped, even in the more hypothetical of situations. Like deficits, I guess laws don’t matter either.
Somehow, I conjecture that much of the rage roaring on the Right has little to do with actually combating terrorism or keeping Americans safe.
I make this estimation because one of the main defenses is that waterboarding has not been used since 2003. Why is that? If waterboarding is the only way we have been able to thwart impending terrorist attacks, does that mean we haven't been safe since 2003? Surely Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's knowledge of contemporary terrorist attacks has been exhausted. Could it really be a coincidence that 2003 was the year that waterboarding officially ended and the invasion of Iraq began?
What about the testimony of Major Paul Burney, who revealed that much of the time spent waterboarding was to find a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq? The possibility that this is true might just unveil the real reason why our country waterboarded: to better justify the invasion of an innocent country.
Since in most cases conservatives defended nearly everything George W. Bush did, we may begin to see why waterboarding is sacrosanct on the Right. Like the liberal mainstream media that have invested heavily in Barack Obama, conservatives have put a major investment in the legacy of President Bush. Any condemnation (or prosecution) of what he did in office is a condemnation of the Right that gave him perpetual cover.
Conservatism thus far in the 21st Century is not concerned with the rule of law or tradition. It is primarily concerned with making Republicans, and especially George W. Bush, look good. Doing so means that conservatives have to ignore the law. And they are.