Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To torture or not to torture -- That is the question

Is water-boarding torture? Yes.

Is playing loud, obnoxious music torture? Yes – especially if it’s any song by a big-hair rock band of the late ‘89s or early ‘90s.

Is enforced sleep deprivation torture? Yes, but I don’t blame my daughter.

Seriously, let’s not mince words. If you or a government methodically coerces another individual in any way to extract information and/or to punish, then that is torture. Let’s stop the semantic dancing. The above three examples are modern-day milquetoast torture compared to when authorities “got Medieval,” but they are torture, nonetheless.

The question in the torture debate is not whether what happened at Guantanamo or during renditions was torture. It is, “As a free society that upholds liberty and individual rights, should we torture or should we not torture?”

The answer is yes – and if your daughter or son or other loved one could be saved by the torture of a foreign terrorist (or even an American), many of you would say the same and even possibly insist upon much greater torture than is now allowed to save your precious one. But that is not what makes it correct or moral. Here’s what is.

Human beings have a right to their lives, liberty and property. People who purposely murder human beings forfeit their right to their lives, liberty and property and put themselves at the legal disposal of the free people who capture them – inside a country or outside.

If it is beyond any doubt that they are murderers (or terrorists, if you like), then we can snuff out their life. And if they hold valuable information that will save other free people from death or injury, then the murderers must divulge that information or be subject to torture to do so. Mercy is for the innocent, not the monsters.

All of the above said, we must set down legal guidelines to prohibit abuse of a free people’s prerogative to torture. That will include clear definitions and objective, third-party oversight. Here are some ideas.

There must be, I think, two different thresholds for torture: one for foreigners and one for American citizens. Yes, I believe that even an American murderer can be tortured for information if he holds information that will save other Americans from sure death. If a murderer has buried alive another person and knows his/her whereabouts, he can be tortured for that information. If a murderer has planted a bomb that will kill other Americans, then he can be tortured.

Because America is grounded in individual rights and its citizens have a right to a trial before their peers, I think that any exception to this rule must be extreme and therefore must pass a test of absolute surety. In such extraordinary instances, I think that two Supreme Court justices must sign off on the torture – one from each end of the political spectrum (which would mean one liberal and one conservative in today’s terms). I think that the legal phrasing for such an instance must be something like “beyond any doubt” of guilt. If the facts do not support such a phrasing, then the justices must reject the authorities’ request for torture.

Concerning foreign nationals, the phrasing could be something like “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In cases where there is time to have such torture of foreigners reviewed, I think that a federal high court justice must sign off on it. When there is not enough time, two designated high court justices must later review the information and confirm that no foul play is involved. (This should be done afterward also in the former case.)

The idea of torture is reprehensible to most human minds, but we cannot let such distaste discolor our morality or in any way impugn our dignity. What is right is right, and we must stand firmly behind our convictions to honor the lives and liberty only of those who are innocent. We cannot, as a neighbor once told me, allow ourselves to think that we somehow become just like criminals when we punish or torture them. It is our obligation to exact justice and to protect individual rights.

We must remember that criminals (the least and worst of them) have free will, just like us, and could have decided to live free and honor freedom at any point in their premeditation. But they choose destruction. We choose production. They choose hate. We choose love.They choose not to be (human). We choose to be.

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