Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Thanks to Dan Froomkin in The Washington Post for alerting me to this opinion piece by Neil C. Livingstone in, the web page of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Livingstone argues for waterboarding and other techniques including those in situations where there is intelligence that terrorists have planted a nuclear device, and the only way to find out where it is and stop it is through these "enhanced interrogation techniques." Livingstone of course stops short of saying that American forces or the CIA can inflict "torture," just like Bush, Cheney and the other apologists for the dark side. Livingstone argues against total prohibitions on such "techniques."

Writes Livingstone:

"Even if one believes that waterboarding should not be practiced by the United States, does that mean under all circumstances? What if a bomb has been hidden aboard a school bus and there is not enough time to find it? Do we simply write off the lives of the children on board, or do we use an extreme technique to avert an unfolding tragedy?

"Even more to the point, what if there is solid intelligence that a chemical, biological or radiological weapon has been smuggled into one of our great cities and set to detonate in an hour? The probable consequences are dire: thousands dead, the U.S. economy severely damaged, the public and policy-makers so traumatized that they are likely to take precipitous action, perhaps even a nuclear strike, against the nation that harbored the perpetrators. Is that really what we want, or should the president have the authority to use extraordinary means to try to prevent such a catastrophe before it occurs? . .

"The U.S. should employ them only with presidential authorization. Interrogators should come from the intelligence community, be highly trained and skilled, and be carefully monitored and held accountable for abuses."

Livingstone uses that argument about the deadly weapon about to go off in a U.S. city. We must find out where the device is, otherwise there will be thousands dead. If the bomb goes off, U.S. authorities will do crazy things, "perhaps even a nuclear strike, against the nation that harbored the perpetrators . . ."

Wait a second. This is the same argument all torturers make. "We have noble purposes in mind. We want to protect our citizens. We really don't like to inflict the torture on this prisoner, but . . ."

This was the same argument that the torturers in the Inquisition made when it came to interrogating a "heretic." "We know this lady is a witch allied with Satan. She poses a threat to the faithfuls' eternal salvation. A mortal threat to the morals of the community. If we leave her be, the devil will poison the immortal souls of our children. So let's get the information she has by one way or another (meaning on the rack or with the "water-test.") Eternal salvation demands that we learn what Satan plans against God's children."

How many "witches" were thus put up on the rack or subject to the water-test, as a result? How many "heretics" confessed that, yes, they were allied with the devil, and yes, they were trying to corrupt the souls of the children?

If we follow Livingstone's prescriptions, how many "terrorists" are going to admit they were allied with the bomb-planters just so that the waterboarding would stop? To get an ideal of the answer, let's subject Livingstone himself to these "techniques," and see how long it takes for him to admit that he himself is part of a plot to plant a nuclear device in New York City.

The argument by those like Bush and Livingstone and Cheney for applying "enhanced interrogation techniques" (not torture!) has always been the same. "There is a deadly threat. We must stop it!" Forget about the rights of the individual subjected to these techniques. Forget about human dignity. There are no absolute rights of man. Do anything you want as long as your motives are pure.

The Constitution of the United States was written to protect all of us from the results of this thinking. The group cannot trump the rights of the individual, or else we sink back into the Dark Ages of the pre-Constitution centuries when human life and basic liberties were strange and foreign and meaningless to whoever occupied the seat of power.

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