So, now Osama bin Laden is dead and the question that seems to be cropping up frequently is whether or not finding him was the result of “enhanced” interrogation techniques (or as it is normally known, torture). The Republicans and other “conservatives” seem to believe that, yes, he most definitely was finally brought to justice because of information gleaned from torture (except they steadfastly refuse to use that term). The Democrats and liberals seem to insist that “it was one source of many” or “we can’t really know” or “surely not.” I say fie on both of them. The correct answer to the question is “Who the F*** Cares?!”
Whoa! Am I saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about torture and its consequences, good or bad? No. I’m saying that the question of whether Osama’s death was the final end result of torture is irrelevant. The question only matters if we take for granted the Machiavellian maxim that the end justifies the means. The ends do not justify the means. The means always have to justify themselves.
It’s been clear for a long time that the Republicans believe that the end justifies the means since that’s been their entire argument for torture lo these many years. I’m disappointed to see that the Democrats seem to have bought in to the possibility that they might be right about that. Let me give you a clue: The ends do NOT justify the means.
So I don’t care where we got the info that eventually led us to bin Laden in the sense that it has no bearing on the question of whether we should be condoning torture. Yes, the question of whether we might have been able to get that info from techniques other than torture is unanswerable, but fortunately, it doesn’t matter; torture is still wrong.
Some people like to justify torture under the “ticking bomb” scenario, i.e. we don’t have time to wait for normal interrogation to work. Those people can’t use Osama to support their argument; it took years for the intelligence, however it was gained, to bear fruit.
When we first learned about the Bush administration promoting the use of torture, one of my arguments with the torture apologists was that information gained via torture was not reliable (because I was dealing with people for whom “it’s morally and ethically wrong” was not a convincing argument). People like those I was arguing against are now arguing, see? we can get good intelligence from torture. I have two responses: 1. I never said that you couldn’t get the truth from a torture victim, just that you are as or more likely to get false information. 2. It’s still morally and ethically wrong!
On Meet the Press this Sunday, Liz Cheney tried to claim that this event proved that torture can get useful intelligence and that she was concerned that we no longer have that weapon in our arsenal. So if stopped clock is right twice a day, does that mean I should make sure I have at least one stopped clock in my house? If even the blind squirrel occasionally stumbles across an acorn, does it make sense to blind a few of the squirrels in the acorn gathering brigade? Ms. Cheney’s argument is ludicrous.
The thing that bothers me the most about the debate over torture, is that a lot of the people on the pro-torture side are the same ones who go on about how we are a Christian nation and that we should embrace our Christian roots. So for those people, let me ask you this question: What would Jesus do? Does anyone seriously want to propose that Jesus would have given the order to commence torture? That He would have accepted the legal arguments of Yoo? That He would have subscribed to the idea that the end justifies the means? Well?
Since I heard the news on Sunday night, I’ve been mulling. I was vaguely uncomfortable with the coverage on TV of celebratory crowds forming in front of the White House. Part of why I was uncomfortable was the similarity to pictures I saw in the aftermath of 9-11 of people celebrating our tragedy. I remembered how some of the Internet Conservatives I regularly conversed with reacted to such pictures (badly, as you might imagine…and for good reason). So, I’ve been mulling how to put that discomfort into words. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to. Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, has this blog post on their website. I really have very little to add. I can’t say I’m sad bin Laden is dead, not just because it would be socially unacceptable but also because it would be a bald-faced lie. I will say that I’m sorry it had to come to this, even though the responsibility for that lies as much with bin Laden himself as anybody. I will not congratulate anyone; not the President and certainly not Bush. I can praise the Navy Seal team on a well-executed operation, but I cannot congratulate them. I pray for the day when we can finally put this whole mess behind us.