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Necessity of Torture There is a nuclear bomb set to detonate in Los Angeles in two hours. It is a dirty bomb. Three million people will be killed in the initial blast, and over five million more will die from the radiation caused by the bomb’s fallout cloud. One man, a terrorist, knows where the bomb is. He is in custody. He is not talking. Torture, the most horrific of human acts, is the only hope of getting the information necessary to prevent instantaneous genocide. Is torture in the name of a greater good permissible? Is torture worth the moral cost to our society and to our souls? In a post-atomic modern age, where the threat of terrorism looms over all nations, these are the haunting questions our leaders must face. Charles Krauthammer makes a valiant effort to clarify the moral issues of the question of torture, and in doing so sheds light on the disturbing reality of what a modern nation must do to protect its people. Despite some flaws, through a systematic presentation of his pro-torture arguments, as well as an acknowledgement and logical refutation of major opposition positions, Krauthammer’s central argument that torture should not only be permitted but may at times be absolutely necessary is presented in a compelling and highly effective manner. Krauthammer’s first argumentative step in addressing the question of torture in the United States is to differentiate between the three different types of prisoners who may potentially be subject to torture; the ordinary solider, the terrorist, and the terrorist with
Willbanks 2 information. Krauthammer argues against the torture of the former of these two. The ordinary solider is incarcerated only to prevent him from returning to the battlefield. The terrorist, though “…entitled to no humane treatment,” receives it “…because it is in our nature as a moral and humane people (Krauthammer 2)” It is only the final class of war prison, the terrorist with information, who Krauthammer believes should be subject to torture. To arrive at this conclusion, Krauthammer rationally evaluates the potential cost of innocent civilian life against the pain of a terrorist prisoner. This moral calculus problem has only one clear answer. Torture is not only permissible in this scenario; it is a moral imperative. As disgusting and unpleasant as the “…monstrous evil that is any form of torture (Krauthammer 4),” may be, Krauthammer argues that it is both logical and moral to torture a terrorist for information that may save innocent civilian lives. This position, when established from the outset vastly enhances the effectiveness of his argument because once the distinction between the different types of war prisoners is made, he can move forward with his argument without regard to the “what if?” moral objections inherent in the torture of ordinary soldiers and even ordinary terrorists. This makes Krauthammer’s rhetoric far more effective than most torture-related arguments because he does not constantly have to qualify his statements. Krauthammer then breaks down a misconception about terrorism: that the treatment of terrorist prisoners will impact how captured allied troops are treated. According to Krauthammer, the Geneva Convention’s intent, as he accurately summarizes, was “…to provide a deterrent to the kind of barbaric treatment of civilians that had become so horribly apparent during the first half of the 20th century (Krauthammer 1: ICRC 1),” not
Willbanks 3 simply to protect the rights of prisoners, as popular opinion purports. In the world of western style warfare, the provisions of the Geneva Convention proved reasonably effective. Captured prisoners on the European front of World War II were, as a whole, treated far better than those of the previous world war. This however does not seem to be the case in war with countries of radically different belief and value systems. On the Pacific front of World War II for example, captured prisoners underwent gruesome torture at the hands of their Japanese captors. The principle of reciprocity behind the Geneva Convention only functions in war against a society that holds similar values. Our terrorist enemies in the Middle East, and undoubtedly on our own soil, play by different rules than we do. The U.S.’ treatment of prisoners is, according to Krauthammer, quite generous. “We give them three meals a day, superior medical care, and provision to pray five times a day,” as well as access to the Koran, the document that has been twisted by these extremists in such a perverse way that it, according to Krauthammer “…inspires their barbarism.” And yet, as the frequent internet video releases of brutal Al-Qaeda executions demonstrate, such as in the infamous beheading of American journalist Nick Berg in 2004, this generally humane treatment of terrorist prisoners has done little to influence terrorist’s treatment of prisoners. With the target of his proposed torture policy defined and a major misconception regarding international law debunked, Krauthammer moves forward with his argument by clarifying who specifically can carry out the act of torture. Again, he heads off objections by positing that only trained professionals, after first receiving judicial approval, would be allowed to torture prisoners with information. They would also need to have a proven track record of not abusing their position, thus preventing “…the kind of
Willbanks 4 sick sadomasochism Lynndie England and her cohorts engaged in at Abu Ghraib.” This removes the major concern of abuse and revenge-driven masochism so frequently used in arguments against the use of state-sponsored torture. It is important to acknowledge however that state-sponsored torture, in any form, is a statement of American foreign policy. International perception of the United States is heavily influenced by our torture policy. It is thus crucial that the decision to torture a prisoner must be both reasoned and held to accountability. Krauthammer’s proposed policy to relegate these decisions only to trained professionals who have obtained judicial approval ensures that decisions carrying the weight of the future of US foreign policy would not rest upon the shoulders of the soldier or even his commander. By not allowing troops on the ground to make such decisions, Krauthammer removes another veil of uncertainty surrounding the question of torture. Krauthammer is at his most potent however when he begins to specifically refute the positions of his opposition, namely that of Senator John McCain, author of the McCain Amendment to ban all forms of torture by the United States. The major problem with the McCain amendment in Krauthammer’s view is the paradox inherent in McCain’s argument that torture should be unequivocally banned, but that exceptions should be made (outside the law) in extreme situations, such as in the “ticking time bomb” scenario, in which, as Krauthammer paraphrases, you essentially, “do what you have to do (Krauthammer 6). But if in this scenario torture is the imperative, then why propose a law that bans torture entirely? Krauthammer takes the far more reasonable stance of acknowledging the possibility of situations in which torture is necessary and unavoidable, and proposes to plan and regulate a course of action. In a life and death situation, there
Willbanks 5 should be no gray area as to what action to take. It is better to plan for the contingency than be caught with one’s proverbial pants down. It is the foresight and planning proposed by Krauthammer that will allow crisis scenarios to be effectively dealt with. By pointing out this paradox in McCain’s logic and positing a detailed alternative, Krauthammer’s provisional pro-torture stance becomes far more effective than McCain’s position. McCain also relies on Israel as an example of anti-torture progressivism, praising its 1999 ban of state-sponsored torture in which the supreme court of Israel declared the nation one which "does not accept that investigators use any means for the purpose of uncovering truth. The rules pertaining to investigators are important to a democratic state. They reflect its character. (Barak 1)" Yet the character of Israel may not be in line with what the court truly believed. The ban was effectively lifted just a year later during the second Palestinian uprising when terrorist attacks swelled within the nation of Israel. In the face of a renewed terrorist threat, the nation’s leaders shifted from progressivism to protectionism, defending torture “as a last resort in preventing terrorist attacks” (Frankel 1). The pedestal upon which McCain places Israel is a wobbly one indeed. Israel’s ban on torture was a failed effort, and by drawing attention to this failure, the effectiveness of Krauthammer’s article is increased. Krauthammer’s argument does falter at points however, though most of these are relatively minor lapses. For example, he devotes a substantial amount of time to a discussion of the kidnapping of Israeli corporal Nachshon Waxman, in which the torture of his driver led to the discovery of Waxman’s location. Waxman, however, was killed in the rescue attempt - making the entire effort ultimately futile. Krauthammer mentions this
Willbanks 6 almost in passing, noting that it does nothing to change “the moral calculus (Krauthammer 6),” of the issue. In fact, Krauthammer’s reliance on such an unsteady example raises some doubt about the general legitimacy of his argument. If this is the most extreme example he can cite, then is the terrible so-called “necessity” of a torture imperative even worth discussing? Relying heavily on generous assumptions about human behavior, Krauthammer finds shaky ground in his proposal that “Interrogators would be constrained to use the least inhuman treatment necessary relative to the magnitude…of the knowledge being obtained (Krauthammer 5).” This is of course an entirely subjective judgment, leaving an uncomfortably large gray area ripe for abuse. His suggestion of post-facto authorization in times of necessity exacerbates the dilemma of subjectivity, leaving a legal window similar to that of the McCain amendment. Under the rules of Krauthammer’s proposal, an agent could essentially legally engage in any form of torture which he subjectively finds the danger great or imminent enough to warrant, with the knowledge that he can receive legal authorization the next day. This potentially places the US’ foreign policy – or rather international perception of it - squarely within morally gray territory. This remains one of the largest holes unaddressed by Krauthammer, and detracts from the effectiveness of his qualified pro-torture argument. Krauthammer’s greatest argumentative flaw however is the lack of emotional consideration – the “human element” - in his proposal. His arguments rest on assumptions of entirely logical and rational human behavior in a time of crisis. But in reality, difficult decisions such as whether to commit torture and in what manner to do so are heavily impacted by human emotion in the heat of the moment. Krauthammer’s
Willbanks 7 detached voice negates the human issue of these terrible decisions. Policy does not exist in an emotional void, and it is unrealistic to assume so. The emotional void in Krauthammer’s paper proves to be the greatest detractor from its efficacy. Despite these shortcomings, Krauthammer presents an argument far more cohesive and reasoned than most, especially considering the rhetorical minefield of the subject matter. His reasoned, systematic proposal, along with his superior refutation of his biggest opponent, Senator McCain, makes his argument both effective and compelling, resonating - for better or worse - with readers on all wavelengths of the political spectrum.
Barak, A, S. Levin, T. Or, E. Mazza, M. Chessin, Y. Kedmi, I. Zamir, T. Strasberg-Cohen, and D. Dorner. Israel. Supreme Court of Israel. The Supreme Court of Israel, Sitting as the High Court of Justice. 6 Sept. 1999. 30 Sept. 2007 <hei.unige.ch/~clapham/hrdoc/docs/terrorisraeljudgment.pdf>.
Frankel, Glenn. "Prison Tactics a Longtime Dilemma for Israel." The Washington Post. 16 June 2004. The Washington Post. 30 Sept. 2007 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/articles/A44664-2004Jun15.html>.
"The Geneva Conventions: the Core of International Humanitarian Law." International Committee of the Red Corss. 1 Sept. 2006. International Committee of the Red Cross. 30 Sept. 2007 < http://www.icrc.org/Web/Eng/siteeng0.nsf/htmlall/genevaconventions>.
Krauthammer, Charles. “The Truth About Torture.” The Weekly Standard. 5 Dec. 2005. 13 Sept 2007. <http://weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/400rhqav.asp?pg=1>
McCain, John. “Torture’s Terrible Toll.” Newsweek. 21 Nov. 2005. 15 Sept 2007. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/1001979/site/newsweek/>
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