The waterboarding debate continues. Well it should. But I was struck by three paragraphs at the end of an article about the current debate over President Bush’s nominee for attorney general.
Even Democrats like Bill Clinton and scourges of torture like Sen. John McCain say it is acceptable to torture someone in a “ticking bomb” scenario. Real life doesn’t produce the kind of a-nuke-is-about-to-go-off scenarios featured on the television drama “24.” The closest we are likely to get is the capture of high-level al-Qaida operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with knowledge of ongoing plots. Should we have tortured KSM? No. But we waterboarded him and that reportedly helped roll up al-Qaida terrorists around the world.
Circumstances matter. If we were waterboarding political dissidents, Sen. Whitehouse would be right to compare us to Saddam Hussein. If interrogators were waterboarding KSM every morning for their own amusement, that would shock the conscience. But not many consciences will be shocked at subjecting him to 90 seconds of uncontrollable panic to get information that might save lives.
If the Senate disagrees, it should put itself clearly on record forbidding waterboarding. Otherwise, it should confirm Mukasey as the careful legal mind he has shown himself to be throughout his career and during this controversy.
From a political perspective, this makes sense. Protecting the nation, the greater good, is a moral imperative. From a purely human perspective, it makes sense. We want to be protected and we want the bad guys to suffer.
But from a Jesus perspective? I don’t think so. I don’t know that the radical Jesus life he required allows such a perspective. I am not approaching this as someone devoid of a background in political philosophy or moral reasoning or ethics. I understand all of those perspectives. I understand and appreciate Augustine’s justification for such things in City of God . I also don’t approach this as someone who believes that listening to Jesus means stripping away 2,000 years of intellectual tradition. I understand the nuances of faith and reason – I think.