THE VOICE OF REASON
Torture

  SPEAKING CANDIDLY ABOUT HUMAN NATURE AND TORTURE

Is there anybody in his or her right mind who believes that the United States of America is not at this moment the object of terrorist plots?  The dastardly deeds perpetrated against this country on September 11, 2001 will, to borrow a familiar phrase from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, live in infamy.  Additional terrorist attacks have  followed in other parts of the world, and conventional wisdom sadly suggests that this country will experience similar attacks in the future.

The world political scene demonstrates, contrary to the teachings of the 17th century German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf, that human beings are not by nature reasonable and innately noble. Thomas Hobbes, pictured above, also a masterful thinker of the 17th century, got it right when he wrote of a bellum omniam contra omnes (a war of all against all).  International politics exhibits a Hobbesian state of nature. The players are generally amoral, self-interested, and inclined to prey upon and to attack the weak.

Now consider the following scenario.  Suppose that our government captures a high-level member of Al-Quaida, who is knowledgeable of the organization's activities in the United States.  Suppose further that all key intelligence agencies in the country have firm reason to believe that a massive nuclear attack against us is imminent, the kind of attack that could kill a million people and render a major city uninhabitable for years to come. Query:  what steps should be taken in order to extract from this prisoner the information necessary to prevent the attack?

The answer to the question, in a time of war, is simple and straightforward.  The ultimate objective is to protect the American people.  In order to do that, every attempt should be made to access the information the prisoner has.  Assuming the prisoner is a Muslim, you may be wondering how I would feel about forcing him to eat pork.  Or divesting him of his clothing.  Or breaking his arm or leg, or even his neck.  Since I am strongly inclined to believe that resorting to these and other abhorrent tactics might prevent another 9/11 or worse, I would do so in a New York minute when circumstances dictated.  I could not live with my conscience otherwise.

Fear motivates people.  It does so now and always has.  Giving up information or, in the alternative, being subjected to the rigors of the damned is a choice that can break a person, even when his or her propensity for good outweighs the evil in his soul.  Most people are wired eventually to cry, "Uncle!"  Yet my critics are quick to respond, "You wouldn't know that the prisoner was giving you accurate information."  No, but woe be unto him if the information he provides is proven to be false!  If I were a prisoner of war and were threatened with suffering excruciating pain or giving up information, it would be a terrible choice. I would try to be strong, but I am not sure how long I could righteously hold out.  I think that the most trained combatant would admit the same.

It is simply naive to argue that harsh interrogation tactics, insofar as they tap into fear as a primeval human emotion, are not effective and, furthermore, have not been used by all political powers when actively waging war.  I have talked to World War II and Vietnam vets, and their accounts bear out the truth of these assertions.

In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, can you imagine the director of the CIA or FBI stating, "The prisoner, as it turned out, had all the details of the attack in his head, but we did 'the right thing' and assigned him an attorney at taxpayers' expense.  It is tragic that so many Americans were killed in the attack, yet we cannot be expected to compromise our nation's values."?  Duh!  This is deranged thinking or, as my father would have offered, "crappola."  The person who overcomes the prisoner's will and forces him to give up information is praiseworthy in my view, and all the more so if the lives of American citizens are saved.  The individual who, by contrast, protects the enemy's "human rights" at the expense of the American people is nothing more than an enemy himself.

What do I think of Mr. Obama's causing documents regarding "waterboarding" to be declassified?  It is little more than a misguided attempt to placate authoritarian regimes and unscrupulous dictators around the world, along with unprincipled socialist cowards, who have neither taken nor demonstrated an interest in learning the first thing about morality.  Who cares what thugs like Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Daniel Ortega think of the morality of this country's actions?  Who cares what those who wink at militant Islam think?  Who cares what craven Europeans say?  As a nation we should strive only to be respected, not loved.  Respect entails building and exuding strength and safeguarding our citizens and our homeland.

Mr. Obama's egalitarian policies, which he practices both domestically and abroad, will one day, I suspect, serve as a prime example of how a once great country voluntarily debased itself to a standard of mediocrity in order to become "just one of the guys" and did so in the naive hope that the world would be thereby transformed into a safe and wholesome place.  Hogwash!

When Hugo Chavez humiliated this country by gifting Mr. Obama with an anti-American book in full view of rolling cameras, our President responded that he did not take offense at the gift because "I am a reader."  Yet it was not about Mr. Obama, but about the country!   Never mind his frequent flights into narcissism.  If a reader, it would have been helpful had he studied and internalized Thomas Hobbes' political writings before entering presidential politics.  Perhaps he might then have a realistic idea of how twisted "human nature" is.  We can only hope that Mr. Obama's idealism and Ivy League delusions are tempered by the likes of Hobbes and that the country will not be mortally wounded during Mr. Obama's steep learning curve.

April 27, 2009