Monday, September 26, 2005

Michael: McCain against torture for the wrong reason

Arizona's Senator McCain says prisoner abuse must be repudiated because it hurts America's image abroad. This is undoubtedly true, but it is not the proper, or even sufficient reason for opposing the torture of people in American custody, whatever legal status assigned them. McCain and everyone in a position of authority in the American government ought to oppose torture because it is immoral, illegal, and inherently wrong - not because it makes us look bad.

Torture is counter-productive, fails to produce accurate intel, corrodes military discipline, and exposes our own troops to mistreatment. But more than any of this, it treats the victims as less than fully human, and sanctions the basest impulses in its perpetrators. Torture is a cruel, vicious, and inhuman practice antithetical to the premise underlying America's sole claim to moral authority: our recognition that every human is worthy of dignity, deserves eqality before the law, and has inherent and inalienable rights.

Rejecting torture means rejecting situational ethics. Not every action can be justified by the ends intended by taking it. Some actions are inherently wrong, whatever their aim. That is the reason we abhor terrorism; it is the ultimate political expression of situational ethics. Terrorists justify murder with the exigencies of their political struggles. Ethically, it is no different than situationally justified torture. Unless we reject torture, we cannot condemn terrorism with a straight face.

Torture is wrong and must be repudiated. The legal regime against its use must be reiterated and strengthened, and those who have engaged in it must be punished surely and severely. Rejecting torture must be done, not because tolerating torture makes us look bad, but because it is undeniably the right thing to do. If McCain's morally-bankrupt message is the only one capable of resonating with McCain's intended autdience, we are perilously far down the path to open fascism and much closer to laying aside core American values than I have yet suspected or feared.

If America's leaders cannot summon the will to purge this evil from our own breast, we are truly lost. We will have lost the struggle with terrorists the only way we truly ever could: by becoming like them.


At 9:04 AM, Anonymous gail davis said...

"If America's leaders cannot summon the will to purge this evil from our own breast, we are truly lost."

1) America's 'leaders' have already shown they are not really concerned about torture.

2) Image is all that McCain is now concerned about. I now have trouble believing there ever was more to McCain even though I did think so at one time.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous JaneAZ said...

I doubt that image is the only reason McCain opposes torture. Having been a tortured POW, he knows better than most what the inherent evils of it are.

McCain has a roadblock ahead of his amendment in the form of a veto. The more pressure he can place on Bush, the better. And since Bush/Rove are so image-conscious and spin-ready, image is exactly the place where the pressure needs to be.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous gail davis said...

janeaz, perhaps you are right.

Though survivors aren't automatically against others enduring what they have themselves survived.

McCain has spoken out against torture (if somewhat weakly) from the beginning when others have not. But I'll never get that image of McCain hugging the pro-torture president of the U.S out of my mind.

At 6:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have only read the couple most recent posts here so I wanted to check. Those that kill (beheading, bombing, bullets, whatever) innocent civilians in Iraq are murderers. And the "legal regime against its use must be reiterated and strengthened, and those who have engaged in it must be punished surely and severely." So we should stay and help Iraq until the country is stable or the Iraqi government asks us to leave, right?

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Have you seen that Rick Renzi was named one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress?

Here's the site:

You can also read about it on my blog at

At 10:52 PM, Blogger Michael said...


Opposition to mayhem and murder isn't sufficient reason to prosecute a war in Iraq, since we are the focus and cause of much of that violence.

We do not have legal control over terrorists and insurgents, so it is hardly fair to characterize their actions as our failure, or our responsibility. We certainly do have legal control over our own armed forces. If they rape and murder and torture, it is very much our own moral and legal failing.

We may not be able to prevent every bad thing from happening in the world, but we can refrain from adding to that veil of tears by our own actions.

At 12:39 PM, Blogger shrimplate said...

What Senator McCain is trying to say is that when he was being tortured by his Vietnamese captors during that war, once they realized that it made them look bad, naturally they stopped.

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Joel Gaines said...

Define torture. I have heard everything from making a room uncomfortably cold to putting underwear on someone's head to chopping off their fingers with a big knife. So what IS torture?

When I was in the intelligence field, we were taught that the moment you put your hands on a prisoner, anything that person said was of no use to you and that was considered over the line. It is hard to believe (and none of us know enough to have an educated opinion - unless there are some current intel types reading) that this doctrine has been proven false, when we know of so many other highly effective ways of extracting information without causing duress, let alone torture.

Intelligence is highly perishable, especially in a place like Iraq. It is important to secure information that might save lives, but because Iraqis think everyone is like Saddam was (if it is everyday, it's normal) I am told we have found that the bad guys generally offer information freely with a little intimidation or they are not going to give up anything - so why would torture be necessary? The intel community already knows that they get information early and often or they get nothing.

Anyway - for what it's worth, my $.02

At 1:39 AM, Blogger Michael said...

I'm pretty satisfied with a definition of turture under American law. I think it isn't too much to ask that the Administration follow our own laws prohibiting the use of torture and that the Armed force follow the US Army field manual. Joel, the practice you describe, of putting you hands on a prisoner already being over the line is probably the right one. The most sophisticated interrogators from the Irsaeli defense forces do not use physical coersion, because they know it simply doesn't work.


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