Monday, September 28, 2009

Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

In genesis 18:23, God agrees to spare an entire city for the sake of ten innocent men, if they are to be found. As it turns out, they aren't there, so God's angels torch the city, evacuating the one innocent man and his family. This serves to illustrate one potential advantage that God has over the US Military: he can be 100% sure whether a suspect is guilty or innocent.

We can't. So when we pick up random people in Afghanistan or Iraq, there are a lot of possibilities. They could be members of Al Qaeda, or they may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Heck, the prisoner may be just some local dude who had a vendetta against NATO because a drone killed his wife but he has no knowledge of al Qaeda or terrorist activities. Not every German solder in WW2 was a Nazi; some were good men who were drafted into service or who were defending their homes from Soviets. Unlike God in the case of Sodom, we just don't know. That is just one good reason, among many, why we shouldn't just torture all of our prisoners to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, we find Liz Cheney developing aspirations to follow in her father's political footsteps. And of course, that includes justifying and advocating torture (if the Nazis and Pol Pot used it, its safe to call it torture). Speaking at a conservative conference, Liz Cheney took Obama to task for his policies on interrogation:

“Mr. President, in a ticking time-bomb scenario, with American lives at stake,” she said, “are you really unwilling to subject a terrorist to enhanced interrogation to get information that would prevent an attack?”

Ah, the ticking time bomb scenario. This is an argument that torture enthusiasts use to capture emotional support for their policies. And its effective! Who wouldn't torture bin Laden in a heartbeat to save even one American life?

This is a snippet of what infuriates me about the mainstream right in America today; namely, the reliance on emotional arguments to achieve political goals. Its a horrible way to formulate policy. Whether its opposing healthcare reform by claiming death panels are going to euthanize grandma, opposing everything else by calling Obama a fascist, or using the ticking time bomb scenario to justify torture, the arguments appeal to instinct rather than logic. Considering the ticking time bomb scenario in particular, there are many good reasons why its an absurd concept:

1. Most terrorist attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are suicide in nature, as were the attacks on 9/11. Terrorists don't use ticking time bombs. They are ticking time bombs.

2. The scenario requires that this terrorist has managed to somehow plant a powerful explosive device inside America, but waited long enough to detonate it to actually get captured. This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in movies, but not so much in real life.

3. Somehow, we have to find out there *is* a bomb. I'm not quite sure how we come across this information. Does the prisoner just up and tell us to taunt us? Do we find out from some other terrorist? Who knows, but we're pretty damn sure of this intelligence if we're willing to justify torturing someone who may actually be an American citizen (Cheney makes no distinctions, after all).

4. Now we need to torture the terrorist in order to figure out where the bomb is. At this point, we run into the non-trivial problem of the fact that torture is a notoriously unreliable way to get information. Since the terrorist knows the bomb will explode in some short amount of time, he just has to give his captors enough false leads to buy enough time for the bomb to explode.

Pretty far fetched scenario, right? But there is one more point that I haven't mentioned yet. Imagine all of the above points are satisfied. Somehow I have a terrorist tied to a chair in Indianapolis. I know with 100% certainty that he planted a nuke somewhere. The clock is ticking. Lets assume I watch "24" (I don't) and so I know how to torture someone really well. If all of those conditions are met, AM I REALLY GOING TO NOT DO IT BECAUSE THERE IS A LAW AGAINST IT???

People break laws all the time. I sometimes speed. I even run a red light here and there. If I have to choose between breaking the law, or letting the city of Indianapolis get nuked along with all of my family and friends, am I really going to hesitate? Besides, I bet the president would pardon someone who stopped a nuclear terrorist attack.

The issue of torture should go far beyond just the fact that it is a national embarrassment. For religious people, it should be absolutely unacceptable. God in the Old Testament, as demonstrated by his actions at Sodom, wasn't willing to harm innocents in the pursuit of the guilty. Jesus Christ would CERTAINLY not be OK with torture. And yet, the religious right seems to have no problem with the sin being perpetrated in their name, and actually seems to support it from a political perspective.

***** Update *****

Here is a classic case. A GOP politician gets worked into a tizzy because of some affront to "Christian" values. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ):

"Obama's first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers' money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries," said Frank. "Now, I got to tell you, if a president will do that, there's almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn't be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can't do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity."

It sure is funny that the only sins that Republican Christians find time to condemn are those that are predominantly associated with the opposition party, isn't it? Torture is OK, but homosexuality is not! Its almost as if they're using religion to get votes.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I think you should write an editorial column for a newspaper.... this is great writing.