Daily Archives: December 11, 2014

Jim Wright on Torture

If you’re not reading Jim Wright’s Stonekettle Station blog, you ought to be. Jim is a retired naval officer who lives in Alaska and has an uncommonly clear-eyed perspective on a great many things… as well as a brutally frank way of expressing it. His essay on the torture report is typical of his writing, a very lengthy but insightful piece in which he pulls no punches and says things a lot of people don’t want to say. You should definitely read and consider the whole thing, but here are a couple of excerpts:

On our reasons for doing it:

Of course, we knew that our government tortured people. We knew that. That’s no secret. They told us. And we Americans? We let them do it and a lot of us cheered them on – certainly not all of us, maybe not even a majority, but enough.

And why not torture? No really, why the hell not?


After what our enemies did to us, after the crime they committed, after the carnage they wrought, were we not justified in any measure?


We wanted blood.


We wanted revenge and we had a right to that payback did we not?



More than anything, we wanted them to be afraid.


Just like they had made us afraid.


They aren’t human, these enemies. That’s what we tell ourselves, isn’t it? They’re not human, they’re not men. That’s how we justified it. They’re pigs. Dogs. Towel heads. Camel jockeys. Ragheads. Hajis. Sand niggers. Vermin. They are terrorists and nothing more. So what does it matter if we torture them?


They deserve no mercy.


They are entitled to no rights.


But even then – even then – we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to admit what we were doing, could we?  We couldn’t quite admit what we Americans allowed to be done in our names. So we called it “enhanced interrogation” and “coercive methods” and “rendition” instead of “torture.” And we said those words in the same fashion that we Americans used to say “separate but equal” to describe our apartheid.

And on whether the infamous “ticking bomb” scenario is any justification:

“What if the terrorists had your family? What if they had an atom bomb hidden in a city with your family strapped to it and you caught one of those bastards and there was only an hour left and there was no time to evacuate and millions were going die? Including your family! Huh? What about that? Are you saying you wouldn’t do whatever was necessary to get that information? I bet you would!”


You’re right, I would.


I, me personally? I would do whatever it took, including torture, if that was the only way to save the city, if that was the only way to save my family, if that was the only way to save you. As a military officer, yes, I would. Absolutely. I wouldn’t order my men to do it, I’d do it myself. I shove a hose up the bastard’s nose and turn on the water. I’d shoot out his knees. I’d cut off his balls. You bet. If that’s what it took. I’d do it without hesitation.


And I’d do it knowing I was breaking the law, and I would expect to be tried for the crime and sent to prison.


I would.


Because even if I saved the day, I’d be wrong.


Good intentions do not justify evil.

Read that again: “Good intentions do not justify evil.”

Finally, this:

Now certainly it may be extremely difficult to treat a terrorist who tried to destroy your nation and your loved ones humanely.


Certainly. No sane person disputes that. I’ve taken prisoners in defense of my country, trust me on this, it’s goddamned hard.


However that, that right there, is the very definition of moral courage.


You cannot lay claim to the moral high ground if you engage in the same brutality as your enemies.

If the United States of America insists on calling itself exceptional, then it must be the exception. 

(Emphasis is Wright’s, but I wholeheartedly agree.)

Believe it or not, he’s got much, much more to say on the subject, and it’s all worth your time. Go. Read it.


It’s About Us

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I agree with John McCain. Further evidence that I’ve somehow ended up in Bizarro World, I guess. Anyhow, here’s a particularly eloquent passage from Senator McCain’s statement on the torture report:

But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.


We have made our way in this often dangerous and cruel world, not by just strictly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by exemplifying our political values, and influencing other nations to embrace them. When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.


Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.

Emphasis mine. The whole statement is worth reading — it’s not that long — but this is the important bit. And it’s essentially what I’ve been saying ever since the first nauseating photos from Abu Ghraib began circulating. It doesn’t matter if torture is effective, which seems to be the defense supporters of this loathsome program keep falling back to. And it doesn’t matter if the other side does barbaric things to its prisoners. We shouldn’t act like barbarians ourselves. Because Americans are supposed to be better than that.