Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Torturous Debate

I would like to think that it is only in the spirit of promoting national unity that the president was talking about, that many people are re-visiting the issue of whether the torture of some of the Guantanamo detainees under the Bush administration might have yielded some of the information that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. Perhaps they are just trying, in the spirit of bi-partisanship, to acknowledge the Bush administration's contributions to the eventual success of one important part of our ongoing war with Al Qaeda. If so, that seems a strange thing to want to call to our attention. First of all, torture is still illegal, whether it yielded useful information or not. If we had learned something useful by committing burglary or some other crime, would that imply we should legalize that crime? Of course not. Second of all, no one can prove whether or not the same or even better information could have been obtained through other means of interrogation. We can never prove that waterboarding worked (or made no difference), and even if we could, we cannot be proud of doing it anyway, and we cannot condone its use in the future.  (I should note that John McCain, one Republican leader who knows something about torture, said today that he was unaware of any useful information obtained by waterboarding.) Why would anyone want to be promoting the idea that torture is useful or beneficial? Do we want to return to the world of the Middle Ages, where the rack and screw were commonly-used devices?

For those who want to recognize the contributions of George W. Bush, why not instead remind us that it was the Bush administration's invasion of Afghanistan that drove Bin Laden out of that country? Or that US aid to and cooperation with Pakistan ultimately lulled Bin Laden out into the relative open in that country where he would eventually be caught? Why not mention the war in Iraq, Bush's major contribution to the so-called war on terror, for whatever benefits that has brought? The focus instead on one of the most shameful legacies of the Bush presidency seems almost perverse. It almost seems like an effort to prove that Bush was just as tough in fighting terrorists as Obama has proven to be. Or it represents an effort to denigrate the achievements of the Obama administration. Or maybe it's a last ditch effort to defend something that Bush supporters know is difficult to defend. In any case, it doesn't seem like a healthy kind of debate.

We've been dealing with terrorism since the airplane hijackings and hostage-taking of the Carter administration. In fact, we've been dealing with assassinations, bombings and other forms of terrorism throughout our history. Why not simply acknowledge each President's contributions to combating terrorism, and leave it to the historians and the professionals to judge what has worked and what has not worked? As for Obama, would it kill his critics to simply say, "Good job"?


  1. Torturing is always wrong, and never, ever justified.

    It's sad that as a nation we even need to have this discussion. That was the topic of my post today, so I don't feel like hopping up onto the soap box about it.