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.