Assume, arguendo, this hypothetical.
It is Inauguration day. President Obama is about to be sworn is as 44. Virtually everyone in federal office is there. Congressmen, Senators, the Supremes, the new cabinet. Get the picture? You, a federal law enforcement type, have in your custody a man who you reasonably believe knows where a nuclear device is to be detonated nearby. Remember, this isn't just any old nuclear device threat. If this baby is detonated, virtually every aspect and player of and in our government will be vaporized. The device will be detonated within the hour. There's no time to evacuate, no place to run. Any warning will be futile and just inspire mayhem and chaos.
Now, the question. What would you not do to locate that nuclear device?
Let's get a few things straight.
Now, let's be axiomatic, shall we? Torture is bad. It's un-American and violates our values and the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. And when you consider that torture was essentially okayed on Bush's watch by his henchmen, especially that snarling Cerberus, Mr. Potter, big Dick Cheney, I mean, it's certainly enough to enrage you. When I think of John Yoo, advocating torture's praxis, parsing what is and isn't torture (organ failure?), I want to waterboard him myself. Why is it that the biggest advocates of war and torture appear to be the biggest wimps.
But let's be real for a moment. You know and I know that there are a few "pundits" whose anti-torture motivation is primarily that of anti-Bush. Deep down inside, they'll tell you that if Obama had authorized the identical treatment of interrogated suspects, they'd be a little more understanding. Fine. And we all know who they are. And, of course, there are Bush acolytes who will rubber stamp anything that feller did. Without exception. And we know who they are as well.
But let me repeat this question: What would you not do to locate that nuclear device? Can you honestly say that in this admittedly strained hypothetical that you wouldn't countenance the possibility of torture under any circumstances? I can't. Which leads me to another beef of mine.
Everybody's an expert.
What most folks don't know when you get a talk radio show, blog site, column, whatever, you become instantly an expert on any and every subject. On my business card, I list under my name, "Logodaedalus & Expert." See, for some reason, for the past twenty years I've been asked occasionally by TV talk shows to comment on subjects that I had absolutely no experience in and where I knew nothing more than anyone else, but because of talk radio host status: Instant expert! This was not the norm, I must advise, especially when it came to legal and constitutional matters. And opinions are fine for anyone to give. But that's not what happens. All of a sudden, say, Monica Crowley is an expert in rendition or weapons systems. Puh-leeze. Oh, by the by, when a guest who's been shoe-horned into a quick TV hit is not a talk radio host, blogger, columnist, whatever, the catchall appellation is "Strategist" preceded by Democratic or Republican. For $50K and a new car, what the ____ is a strategist?
Two quick examples: (1) Bill O'Reilly once opined about pregnancy never being lethal to a mother (preeclampsia and ectopic pregnancy notwithstanding) and (2) Sean Hannity diagnosed, diagnosed!, Terri Schiavo as not suffering from PVS and further suggested that she was (I guess) merely stunned (sorry Monty Python fans).
So when it comes to matters of war, call me wacky, but I think about my answer and remember that because I've never worn this country's military uniform and, moreover, have never seen war, I will tend to listen to those that have. This also goes for the more bellicose conservative types who saber rattle and practice bar stool diplomacy. The bottom line is that logic would dictate that one should best listen to those who know for any issue discussion and analysis. Incidentally, I've known more than a few progressive and/or liberal (remember liberals?) vets who've made some compelling arguments against allowing gays to serve in combat units. I'm not necessarily persuaded, but their opinion carries more weight than Rush Limbaugh. That was a pun.
So, Patton, what would you not do?
I repeat: What would you not do to locate that nuclear device?
My answer is simple. I wouldn't not do anything to locate and defuse a nuclear devise to avoid its imminent detonation. But first on my list of interrogation techniques would not be torture or insects placed within a confinement box. (Hats off to the sick bastard who thought of that one.)
In fact, it was reported that a legal memorandum prepared for the CIA noted that along with said insect placement, approved interrogation techniques included inter alia: attention grasp, walling (hitting a detainee against a flexible wall), facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation and waterboarding).
But would I proscribe Draconian treatment absolutely? In every case? When some experts and military types tell me it's effective? I'll eschew, all right. But how can I say that these techniques, call it "torture," are never to be used?
What if it worked?
I think I remember a line from the great SCTV where Vic Hedges was running for mayor. Remember, this was the '80s, as I remember. His campaign slogan was "Vic Hedges for Mayor. Sure he's crazy. But what if he's right?"
What if torture, some torture, some despicable form, actually worked? Actually produced usable confessions and saved lives? What if psychological torture worked? Psychological, i.e. no actual physical harm, but perceived. And, remember, we're talking of finding out information instanter and not for detainees whose information can best be culled through soft soap methods. Some have referred to it as the "ticking time bomb" scenario, admittedly, a rarity. After all, Saddam's interrogator got to him by offering him his wife's cookies and reading his poetry. Saddam had no place to go, time was not of the essence.
Now, I'm adamantly against the death penalty for many reasons, including the fact that we're killing the wrong people. But also because, it doesn't work, stats show. I wonder, if any analysis were different showing it did work, if it did deter murderers and if murders were actually reduced accordingly, would I consider it?
As my Hell's Kitchen buddy says, "All's I'm saying is what if it worked?" I don't think it does. Listen to me, there I go again. The expert. No, I intuitively believe that as actual experts have noted, it doesn't work, the results are not trustworthy, it violates international law and tells the world that we haven't a leg to stand on (there's a torture pun somewhere) in complaining when a downed or captured American serviceman is tortured. True.
So, let me repeat my question. What would you not do to locate that nuclear device?
Follow Lionel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lionelmedia