Do Two Evils Make a Good?

I ran across this article tonight. Don’t read it if you don’t have a strong stomach. It is about a newspaper reporter who wanted to see what waterboarding is really like. An excerpt, “The water was now pouring down my nostrils and into my lungs, I was choking and my mind a fog. Like a nightmare you can’t wake up from, the water kept coming. And then I could stand it no more.” And they say that it isn’t torture. He said afterwards that it felt as if he were dying. And that’s not torture. If that isn’t torture, then what is? This word trick is courtesy of the Bush administration, and it is every bit Orwellian as anything in the Obama administration. I’m trying not to read the article again, because it makes me start crying. It makes me want to do something really awful. So instead I’m writing. Because words and ideas are more powerful than anything else.

So I’m going to try to sort out my thoughts on the subject.

First: Waterboarding is wrong. Let’s not yet consider the circumstance, the excuses, who is doing the torturing and who is being tortured. Murder is wrong. Sometimes we “murder” (I’m using this to mean kill, or to take a life) people, either in self-defense or punishment, and that is not wrong. But generally, murder is wrong. So I hope we can all agree that generally, waterboarding is wrong. When you feel like you are dying, when someone makes you feel as if you are drowning and you cannot escape, that is torture. More so, I think, than sticking bamboo under fingernails, as someone mentioned as an example of torture. This is physical and psychological torture of the most horrendous degree. It makes me sick to think about it. I think we can agree that in most cases waterboarding is wrong…so

Second: When is waterboarding justified? When is it okay for a human being to inflict horrific pain and suffering on another human being? The answer many people give is that, “well, we are trying to get information out of them. Information that will save lives.” So a life must be lost in order to save another. I can agree with that premise, but how do we know that these lives are actually going to be saved? I mean, let’s say that the gov’t is waterboarding someone and they confess that, “I was going to go blow up some building and kill 5,000 Americans and here’s how I was going to do it.” But are they telling the truth? This newspaper reporter I mentioned before said that, “I would have told my interrogator anything they wanted to hear to make it stop.” So all these confessions they supposedly get through waterboarding, are they really true? And have you ever noticed that these terrorist-wanna-be’s are usually given their stuff by the FBI? They usually have some undercover FBI agent going, “here, take these bombs to this building and blow it up. Go on now, you should do this, you know…for the cause. Here’s the stuff, here’s the directions, this is what you have to do.” So shouldn’t we also punish this FBI agent for conspiring to commit an act of terrorism? And so how much can we blame this guy who gotten pushed into this role? Is it all his fault, even though without the FBI agent he probably would never had access to the materials nor had the initiative to do it? And these are the people they waterboard? And these are the “plots” they are trying to uncover?

And these detainees who are being tortured have not been convicted of anything. They’re still waiting for their trial. Their prolonged and crooked trial, I might add. Nothing like what the Constitution describes. But I guess since they’re not American citizens they don’t deserve these basic human rights. They are sitting around for years and years, maybe decades, waiting for a trial. Imagine that. It is like Kafka’s “The Trial” except a thousand times worse. Imagine waking up every morning and wondering if you will be sentenced to death that day? Or released? Imagine waking up every morning and wondering what the rest of the world is doing, while you sit and rot away, waiting for a trial. That is something no person should go through. If they are guilty, then convict them. If they are innocent, then they must be released. This is vital for our freedom. Why? Because if the government won’t recognize their rights, then why should the government recognize our’s? Those foreign detainees rotting away in Gitmo might be us in 10 or 20 years, if we don’t stand up for the right of every human being to life, liberty, and property. So to torture potentially innocent people is wrong. Wrong as murdering an innocent person. And I wonder why the government doesn’t give them a trial, if they are so guilty. Perhaps the government is afraid of finding out that they are actually innocent and being forced to release them.

And think of the families and friends of these detainees. If anyone I knew even remotely was being detained for who knows how long and being tortured, I would be irate. It would make me very angry against whoever is doing it.

And we wonder why the terrorist cells are growing.

So how does this help our “cause” (whatever that may be)? It increases the size of the government, but that’s not my cause, and it probably isn’t yours either.

After all of that, let’s pretend that waterboarding actually “worked” and that it didn’t help the terrorists, and that the government actually got valuable information that could save lives.

Then is it justified?

In my opinion, no. But this is where I can compromise. IF waterboarding worked, then MAYBE it would be morally justified. If I squint and think really hard about it, I can just barely see that perhaps waterboarding might be acceptable. But then when I open my eyes, I realize how terrible it is. It is not justified for the simple reason that two wrongs don’t make a right. And then I put myself in the shoes of someone who might have lost a loved one in a terrorist attack that could have been prevented if the government had waterboarded someone. How would I feel?  But then I remember the government now. Gee, they’ve got the NSA eavesdropping on all conversations that come in and out of the USA. They’ve got the TSA and their new-fangled machines that take pictures of everyone who wants to travel as if they don’t have any clothes on. They’ve got…I won’t keep going, you get the point. Aren’t they smart enough to foil a terrorist plot with all this power we’ve already given them? We gave them the power to listen to our private conversations. We are giving them the power to look at us as we would never want any strangers to look at us. We gave them the power to search our houses in secret. Must we give them the power to inflict such cruelty on other people? I say, no. I say that we are going about this all wrong. It is the wrong approach. The government has it all backwards. It is like outlawing everything that might potentially hurt me. Well, someone could hit me with a hammer. So, all hammers are banned. Someone could throw the chair at me. No chairs. Someone could strangle me with a sheet. No sheets. Someone could knock me out with a book. No books. And while we are at it, let’s torture this “someone” until they confess that they had dark designs to do me in with a frying pan.

It makes no sense. Let’s ask why this someone is wanting to do us harm. Maybe it is because we’ve killed their children. Maybe it is because we’ve made them live under a dictator. Maybe it is because we destroyed their homes. Maybe it isn’t because we’re a Christian nation (since when was America a Christian nation? I thought everyone was bemoaning that fact that America is now full of atheists and hypocrites? [I use the word hypocrite to describe someone who just goes through the motions without their hearts being in it or being sincerely convinced about it. We are all hypocrites, in a sense, but that’s not what I meant here.]). Maybe, as Ron Paul said, “they are over here because we are over there.”

It is a plausible theory, and one that deserves careful consideration before we give the government the power to waterboard these suspected terrorists. Because these suspected terrorists are humans nonetheless and they have the same rights as we do. If we don’t respect their rights, we’ll soon find that we have no rights.

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