He spent six weeks in a hospital where he received marginal
medical treatment before being sent to another military camp. In a chest cast
and being badly emaciated, he was expected not to last a week.
His condition improved slowly as time passed. But while he
was ill with dysentery he was again subjected to interrogation and torture that
included rope bindings and beatings every two hours, punishment so severe that
he tried to kill himself to escape the brutal treatment. Eventually, he reached
his breaking point, and cooperated with his captors.
A second story of actual treatment of an enemy involved the
capture, interrogation and detainment in military custody that lasted several
years. During this time the captive was subjected to sleep deprivation for a
period of more than seven days, rectal hydration, forced standing for prolonged
periods, and was water boarded five times. Eventually, the captive’s will also broke,
and he cooperated with his captors.
While the treatment in the second example would certainly be
unpleasant, it is less severe than the experience of the pilot in the first
example, inasmuch as the captive’s life was never in danger. Some Americans,
however, believe the two equally represent torture.
The pilot in the first example was now-Senator John McCain,
R-Ariz., and he was shot down over Viet Nam, captured and tortured by the Viet
The person in the second example was Khalid Sheik Mohammad,
the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon
in Washington, DC, and a foiled attempt likely aimed at the U.S. Capitol
building or the White House, claiming the lives of nearly 3,000 innocent
Torture is the action of inflicting severe pain on someone
as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, and has been practiced
through the ages, and has included the most brutal treatment imaginable.
In interrogation sessions, some techniques are clearly
torture, and some techniques are clearly not torture. Somewhere in the middle
of these extremes, strong interrogation crosses the thin and fuzzy line into
torture. Where that point is seems to be a matter of personal preference.
Having released a controversial partisan report on the CIA’s
enhanced interrogation techniques, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee
charges that the CIA’s techniques constitute torture.
The CIA vigorously disputes the Democrat leadership’s report,
saying the methods were thoroughly analyzed and approved by legal consultants prior
to their implementation, and that Congressional leaders were briefed on them and
accepted the program. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is said to have encouraged
The United States does indeed profess and uphold high-minded
ideals, and most Americans oppose torture. And through this $40 million report
and comments by individual senators, we are told that torture is always and
But is there never a circumstance where torture is
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., thinks not. “In the wake of
9/11, we were desperate to bring those responsible for the brutal attacks to
justice. But even that urgency did not justify torture,” states the Chair of
the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The United States must be held to a higher
standard than our enemies, yet some of our actions did not clear that bar.”
We learn that al Qaeda has placed a suitcase nuke in a major
city set to detonate in a few hours. We have captured a member of the group and
Sen. Feinstein questions him. He refuses to tell where the bomb is. “Okay. Thank
you. Have a nice day,” she says. “After all, we are a people of principle and
high morals, and won’t stoop to forceful interrogation.”
Who and how many American lives have to be at risk before those
like Sen. Feinstein, clinging to the high moral ground, resort to forceful
interrogation methods to save lives? Her spouse? Her hometown? Her Capital office?
Or would she sacrifice American lives just to maintain the idealistic moral
You do not have to support routine use of torture to believe
that in extreme cases, torture is acceptable. Many Americans believe nothing is
too awful to use on an enemy in order to save lives.
So the issue is not that the United States can never use
techniques generally agreed to be torture against enemies, but instead to
clarify under what circumstances the United States will use those techniques,
and how those decisions will be made?
Routine or indiscriminate torture is wrong. Any method used
against knowledgeable enemies to save lives must be encouraged. Foolishly
clinging to the high moral ground will get Americans needlessly killed.