Posts Tagged 'Torture'

The Moralist’s Catch-22

OK, let’s make a couple of assumptions right off the bat for the purpose of this exercise.

  1. You want to help others.
  2. You’d like not to compromise your own values in doing so.

Simple enough. Now, what do you do when compromising your own values is the best way to help people?

This is the moralist’s dilemma, and every now and then it becomes a focal point of policy. Do we employ torture in the hope that it saves innocents, or do we shun the practice, deciding that the moral implications outweigh the potential good?

What’s interesting politically about such dilemmas is that they are a poor litmus test. For instance, someone on the right might say yes to torture but no to sex-ed that isn’t abstinence-based. Sex education, as with torture in the abstract, compromises their values. But in this scenario, our hypothetical right-wing friend doesn’t think the benefits of lower rates of teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease are worth the moral grey of handing out condoms.

I don’t mean to pick on anyone; the point is you can’t simply say conservatives make moral compromises, liberals don’t, or vice versa. In fact, it would be far more accurate to say that, when dealing with the morally grey, liberals and conservatives alike will only “go there” when the cause matches their ideological bent. Adding to the deficit is OK when it’s to cut taxes, but not when it’s to increase spending. And on, and on.

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Is Closing Gitmo Symbolic?

So I was watching FOXNews in Burger King the other day (Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit.) and they were debating closing Guantanamo Bay. I don’t remember what they were talking about, but something they said made me wonder: at this point, is closing Guantanamo Bay a largely symbolic act?

If Obama has his way (and really, regardless of what a lot of senators are saying right now, this is the most feasible way to close Gitmo), some of those terror suspects still deemed dangerous would be held in American supermax prisons. This, of course, scares people, but there’s no reason to think that they wouldn’t be plenty secure. In fact, our supermax prisons already hold a number of convicted terrorists, most notably Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in addition to some other pretty nasty stuff.

Setting aside popular resistance to harboring terror suspects in American prisons, let’s say Obama’s plan was put in motion. What would happen?

  • We’d have terror suspects currently at Guantanamo moved into the U.S.
  • Some would be subject to what Obama is calling “prolonged detention” without trial.
  • Most would be tried by either military tribunal or the U.S. civilian court system and subsequently sentenced.
  • Enhanced interrogation techniques would be disallowed.

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Torture Round-up

I promise this blog will have content about something other than the torture — ahem, enhanced interrogation — debate, but here’s a quick round-up of what some people are saying today, following Obama and Cheney’s speeches.

From the Wall Street Journal’s blog, Capital Journal:

The reviews are rolling in after the great Barack Obama-Dick Cheney speech standoff over terrorism. First, though, Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico look at why the president gave the speech in the first place, and they say he did so because of pressure from Democrats in Congress. “It took some worried calls from Capitol Hill Democrats, congressional aides said, to convince him” that he needed to counter the attack that was being mounted by Cheney.

Those Democrats, Smith and Martin write, thought the president “needed to give a speech defending his plan for closing the terror prison at Guantanamo Bay, and rebutting Republican claims that the move would endanger Americans where they live. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others made clear ‘that we’re going to need a lot more cover if we’re going to be able to deal with this issue,’ said one Democratic leadership aide.” Net result: “The most popular politician in the country found himself pushed up against a wall by one of the least popular in Cheney – the leading voice in a budding Republican attack on Obama over national defense, one of the GOP’s oldest (and most successful) cudgels against Democrats.”

And from yesterday’s Capital Journal:

Presumably, the president will make the case for his moderate course on these issues in his ‘Guantanamo’ speech [Thursday]. But it’s late–and, I suspect, that the Republicans will continue to play the fear card and the congressional Democrats will continue to squirm, no matter what Obama does.

These both struck me as a bit odd… Primarily because the 2008 election (and the 2006 Congressional ones before that) were supposedly referendums on the Bush administration, particularly its foreign policy. When the face of that foreign policy, Dick Cheney, is the voice of the opposition, shouldn’t that bode well for Democrats? I mean, if Bush was an unpopular president, then Cheney was a REALLY unpopular vice president.

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Krauthammer, and Obama’s Speech

I’m probably going to link to Charles Krauthammer columns a lot. He might be the most prominent conservative voice out there that doesn’t insult the intelligence of his audience, See: Coulter, Ann; Limbaugh, Rush. And he’s one of the only conservative voices out there that doesn’t ooze the same “with us or against us” rhetoric that Coulter and Limbaugh are famous for.

Today though, I think he’s way off base.

On the heels of Obama’s speech about Guantanamo Bay, Krauthammer wrote that, despite campaign promises to the contrary, Obama is finding that Bush administration policies actually had a lot of merit.

The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

That’s happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won’t have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.

Obama, assuredly, is convinced of nothing of the sort. What he is finding is that it’s awfully difficult to dismantle the Bush operation. Exit the rhetorical Obama. Enter Obama, the surprisingly pragmatic administrator. (I say surprisingly not as a skeptic, but as an observer: Obama the legislator, after all, was one of the most liberal in the Senate. There was nothing to indicate he wouldn’t continue as such as president.)

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Reevaluating the Torture Debate

There’s a reason Congress usually takes a hands off approach to national security (well, a lot of reasons, actually, but I digress).

With respect to the recent Pelosi-CIA brouhaha, The Economist wrote last week:

…the fracas serves as a sobering reminder that Congessional oversight in the national security arena is not especially effective: It is not a defense of waterboarding if Ms Pelosi did not speak up earlier, but an indictment of the oversight system, which tends to see-saw between excessive deference and frenzies of grandstanding when some scandal finally rouses legislators to action.

Rather than bicker about whether Pelosi is lying or if Cheney needs to get out of the spotlight, wouldn’t Dems be better served by articulating why, exactly, torture is such a problem to begin with? Because if you believe The Weekly Standard (and, in this case, I do to an extent) Cheney’s winning this argument, so far as the argument has gone.

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About the Author

Brian Eason is a University of Missouri graduate with bachelor degrees in Journalism and Political Science. He has covered Congressional elections and local government for the Columbia Missourian and worked as a general assignment reporter for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, IL. Brian has also had articles published in Roll Call.