Monday, November 19, 2007

How Not To Argue Against Waterboarding

I've stayed out of the current debates on this blog recently, because, frankly, I'm tired of the discussion. There are more important things to discuss, in my opinion. Well that, and as the holidays approach, I had planned to take some time "off." Before I do that, however, I'd like to point out this little jewel in my local newspaper, published today. It's rare I'd actually ask anybody to do this, but I'd encourage Paul (our resident SEAL) or Steve (our resident philosopher) to take the time to email the monkeys who wrote this with an op ed piece of their own. The details, contact info, and word limit (yes, I know, word limit and Triablogue aren't works many folks would put together in the same sentence) can all be found at their website. As for myself, I'm taking a few days off. I may resume posting next week or wait until the New Year.

So, without further adieu:

The Right Message

Winston-Salem Journal

The U.S. Army has made clear what the new attorney general has not: There will be no waterboarding of enemy prisoners.

The Army sent a message to its leaders last week saying that waterboarding will not be tolerated. When he was before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly refused to say whether he considered the practice to be a form of torture.

With its message, the Army makes it clear that it stands with international law, doctors and human-rights activists.

The Associated Press recently defined waterboarding as “a harsh interrogation technique that involves strapping down a prisoner, covering his mouth with plastic or cloth and pouring water over his face. The prisoner quickly begins to inhale water, causing the sensation of drowning.” That’s no way for a civilized nation, and a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, to treat prisoners. Nor is it the way that American military commanders want their troops treated if they should be captured.

The current administration has done much over the past seven years to lose America’s traditional moral high ground across the globe. The photos of torture at Abu Ghraib and the internment, without trial, of prisoners at Guantanamo shocked a world that expected better of us.

Military commanders understand what a loss that has been. We have no standing to complain when an enemy tortures American POWs if we are doing the same to adversaries we capture.

The AP reports that the CIA is suspected of having used waterboarding on three prisoners during 2003. The CIA says it banned the practice in 2006.

Mukasey was a big disappointment in his failure to categorically state that waterboarding is torture and therefore illegal. He hid behind legal technicalities.

Americans can only hope that Mukasey, now that he is on the job, will take the necessary steps to ensure that our intelligence services do not use this technique or any other that is considered torture. If he would designate waterboarding as a method of torture, it would mean that any Americans, be they intelligence or military personnel, who used the practice would be liable to prosecution. Their superiors might face the same music.

Mukasey has a reputation for being tough, but also a stickler for the law. The laws of this country, and of the world community, are clear. Torture is illegal. The laws cannot list every method of torture that man has created, but they provide a set of guidelines defining torture under which waterboarding obviously falls.

Waterboarding is torture. This nation’s military has outlawed it. Now it is time for our attorney general to face that fact.

I'll let Steve and Paul comment in the combox, but I will make a few observations:

1. For this newspaper, the logic is schizophrenic. As good liberals, they usually have the civilian government dictating policy to the military. Now, they've reversed that position. Where is the supporting argument?

2. They speak of the laws of the world community, but they neglect to mention that part of the territory of international law is the right of each nation to interpret the law for itself. I believe that was recently discussed on this very blog.

3. I love how the AP gets to make the definitions up for us. Thanks AP!

4. The Army banning waterboarding and "outlawing" it are not convertible ideas, except in populist vernacular. Also, as I recall, was a Navy specialist who defined it as "torture." Judges define "torture" in the legal realm, not the Army. There are folks in the military who loved Rumsfeld. I don't recall the WSJ extolling the virtues of Rumsfeld - quite the opposite in fact.


  1. "but I'd encourage Paul (our resident SEAL)"

    I was never a SEAL. I was in SEAL training (BUD/s) and was thrown out of the Navy for using anabolic steroids I had purchased and transported across the border from Mexico.

    I'd say that it's disanalogous to say that we can't complain if people torture our soldiers. i question that assumption. Our soldiers aren't engaged in terrorist activities which has as a goal to death of innocent civilians. A terrorist is also different than a soldier regarding knowledge. Most our soldiers know very little. We're compartmentalized. Like the USS Cole. It didn't sink because it was compartmentalized.

    Furthermore, if we had soldiers doing to other countries what the Islamo-facists do to us, I'm not sure I'd "complain."

    Make the situation analogius and see if we'd complain....

  2. Calvin's god loves waterboarding.

  3. I should add that the Lord was gracious enough to allow me to be honorably discharged despite the above mistakes. Even though I was unregenerate at the time, he blessed me.


    Orthodox Christian theology - whether you're Arminian or Calvinist - believes God will "inflict severe pain or suffering for punishment" in hell. He's ultimately responsible for hell. It's his justice on display.

    All the definitions of "torture" have included the "inflicting severe pain or suffering" clause. Thus all Christians have to believe that, on this definition, God is a torturer. And, if torture is always immoral, God does immoral acts. So if you're an orthodox Christian, your God is a torturer. if you're a non-Christian, you're just flapping your gums about the immorality of torture. Nature is red with tooth and claw.