Further Adventures In Torture Equivalencies
The recently declassified torture documents have yielded ample food for thought, if you can stomach it. One of the more difficult revelations appears in the lede of the AP's story on the disclosures:
CIA interrogators threatened to kill the children of one detainee at the height of the Bush administration's war on terror and implied that another's mother would be sexually assaulted, newly declassified documents revealed Monday as the government launched a criminal investigation into the spy agency's "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices.
The tactics described above do not belong in the same category of interrogation as waterboarding, or any other sort of physical abuse. After all, the damage being inflicted is all based on pretense, on threats which the interrogator has no means or intention of carrying out. Nevertheless, these tactics are not benign. And yesterday, conservative pundit Tony Blankley went on Hardball to inflict this extraordinary argument upon our rational minds.
BLANKLEY: You know, it's times like this that I think we conservatives and liberals are like different species because we view this so differently. For me and I know for the vice president and conservatives, we are terribly concerned we're going to go through the 1970s and the Church Commission, that we're going to demoralize the people who have been fighting to protect us. On the other hand, I think you folks tend to see we have got to enforce our higher standards, they've been violated, the law must be vindicated. And so we sort of have a strategic view of our national security and focus on that, and others focus on what they think are violations of either ethics or law.
MATTHEWS: So basically, Tony, you don't see anything wrong with CIA operatives doing things like making prisoners think they're about to be executed, making prisoners believe they're about to have their mothers raped in front of them? I'm just asking an open-ended question. Is that okay with you?
BLANKLEY: I think there are a couple things. First of all, lying to suspects when you interrogate is what police do. You should have a big city policeman come in, a detective. I used to be a prosecutor. It's perfectly standard form to lie. You tell them your partner has already confessed. You tell them all kinds of things. That's never been considered a war crime to lie to a criminal suspect as you interrogate them. That's different from doing the thing. Obviously, if they were actually raping and killing, that would be felonies, they ought to be prosecuted.
Uhm...maybe it's just me, but I think that if the police in Washington, DC were eliciting confessions from suspects by threatening their children with corporal harm and their loved ones with rape, the public would not deem this acceptable.
Moreover, I think the equivalency falls apart when one considers the setting of the interrogations. Threatening a detainee's children only works in a circumstance where the detainee believes the interrogator to be capable of such a thing. Sure, police may lie, tell a suspect that an accomplice has flipped, suggest the existence of evidence, or pull that old photocopier-lie detector trick from The Wire. But it's unlikely a suspect is going to believe that the police are going to start murdering children.
At this point, I think it's worthwhile to consider the thoughtful way libertarian blogger Julian Sanchez responded to the news that these were among the interrogation tactics being used by the CIA:
I guess what especially turns my stomach here is that the idea wasn't just to inflict mental anguish on a presumably odious man in order to extract information. It was to inflict that pain by exploiting, as a weakness, whatever flicker of nobility or love remained in an otherwise wretched soul. It was a method of torture that would have been effective only because and to the extent there was something human left in him. Maybe I'm being overly sentimental, but every cell in my body is telling me this is sick and wrong.
I'd like to associate myself one hundred percent with the sentiments Sanchez expresses. I'll also largely accept Blankley's premise that he and I are of two entirely distinct species.