The question of whether torture is immoral does not have quite the yes or no answer that California Senator and posturing Democratic presidential wannabe Kamala Harris implied it had during the questioning of CIA nominee Gina Haspel. Classic torture is the intentional infliction of excruciating pain and permanent injury. Merely pouring water down the nostrils of a terrorist does not meet that classic definition.
And yes, who is doing it matters. Brutalizing an American prisoner of war to get information to be used to kill more Americans is immoral. Making a Khalid Sheik Muhammed think you might actually drown him, which you have absolutely no intention of doing, to save American lives by disclosing future plans and plots is not an immoral purpose.
Extracting needed information by such methods from the likes of a Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the man who decapitated Daniel Pearl before turning passenger jets into manned cruise missiles, is not an immoral choice What about the choices the murderous and soulless Mohammed, who Kamala Harris turned into a victim, forced his genuine victims to make? As far as we know, Sen. Harris, no terrorists were ever forced to choose death by incineration or jumping out of a 100-story building.
One wonders what Harris would recommend if a terrorist planted a nuke set to go off in an hour in Washington, D.C. Would we tell him (or her): “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you. You have the right to an attorney. Now, please, tell us where you planted the nuke.” In that situation few Americans would be unwilling to attach the battery cables to the prisoner’s privates. Sometimes the end does justify the means.
We need to distinguish between what is torture and what is not. Sawing off Nicholas Berg’s head was torture. Saddam’s routine practice of putting dissidents into tree shredders feet first was torture. Forcing prisoners to listen to Christina Aguilera is not.
Waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his two companions saved lives, as documented by CIA and Senate intelligence investigators in 2014:
In particular, the CIA said that al-Qaeda captives who broke under interrogation disclosed the name of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. By tracking this individual, the CIA was able to locate bin Laden’s own hideout in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad.
A statement from the CIA said that information “obtained from detainees played a role, in combination with other streams of intelligence, in finding Osama bin Laden”.
In particular “detainees in CIA custody” gave up intelligence that “fundamentally changed” the CIA’s assessment of Abu Ahmed’s “potential importance to our hunt for bin Laden”.
One wonders what Harris thinks about Obama’s reliance on Predator drone strikes to deal with terrorists, rather than capturing them to gather intelligence. Was that program favored by the Nobel Peace Prize winner immoral? The silence from the Harrises of the world spoke volumes:
There are lots of hypocrisies surrounding the recently released executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. But they pale in comparison to the current Democratic silence about President Barack Obama’s policy of targeted drone assassinations….
How is assassinating a suspected terrorist — and anyone unfortunate enough to be in his general vicinity — with a drone missile morally or legally different from waterboarding a confessed terrorist at Guantanamo Bay? At least the waterboarded suspect survives the ordeal.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report failed to disprove the CIA’s contention that only three detainees were waterboarded. A small number of detainees were subject to sleep disturbance or excessive temperatures. In contrast, drone strikes ordered by Obama may have assassinated thousands.
Fighting terrorism is different when a Republican president is doing it. Democratic presidents are tough. Republican presidents and their nominees are cruel and immoral. Fighting terrorism is a nasty business and the results and methods must be effective We may never use such techniques again but then we may have to.
Harris does not appreciate the fact that but for the grace of God and the heroes of Flight 93 there might not be a U.S. Senate for her to pontificate in. And but for enhanced interrogation techniques many more would have fallen victim to terrorist evil, including some of her constituents.
Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.