The debate over torture rages on since President Obama released the Justice Department memos in April of 2009 that outlined the legal justification of "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on detainees in U.S. custody. As a country, we are not asking ourselves whether the United States actually tortured detainees; we are asking whether specific techniques, such as waterboarding, are actually torture. And, perhaps most importantly, we are asking ourselves whether or not torture is actually effective.
Many have decried the Obama administration's move to release the memos, which not only outlined which techniques were used during the Bush administration’s tenure, but attempted to legally justify those techniques. They have claimed that it has made us less safe, and some have even gone as far as to claim that waterboarding is not torture.
On this last point, Marc A. Thiessen, visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution (a right-leaning think tank) and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, cited writer Christopher Hitchens, who tried waterboarding on himself, in his claim that it is not torture. Mr. Thiessen said on C-SPAN: "A commonsense definition of torture is if you're willing to try it to see what it feels like, it's not torture."
Remember, waterboarding is where the detainee is placed on a board lying on his back, head down. A bag is then placed over the head, and water is poured on the face.
I find Thiessen’s comment interesting in light of what Hitchens originally wrote about his experience in 2008 in Vanity Fair: "You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it 'simulates' the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning -- or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure." Hitchens also added, " If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."
Yet, short of a handful of pundits on both the right and left, I do not see wholesale outrage on the part of the American people for what was done in our name to suspects detained in U.S. custody. Although, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 46 percent of Americans feel waterboarding and other "aggressive techniques" are never justified, and a full 71 percent of Americans feel waterboarding is torture, most Americans do not even want an investigation into the full extent of the torture.
Consider this: In that poll, 62 percent of Americans do not think Congress should hold hearings to investigate the Bush administration's treatment of detainees. Only 33 percent, in fact, do want such an investigation. In addition, a Pew poll showed that even religious Americans are more likely to justify torture of terrorism suspects.
Why is this the case? Why are there no widespread "torture tea parties" across the county? I must admit, I struggle with this issue, even though I am dead set against the torture of any detainee in U.S. custody. We are in a war; we do fight against an enemy with no moral scruples whatsoever; we do fight with people who would kill and maim millions of innocent people if they had the wherewithal. It is very tempting, when one of these suspected barbarians are captured, to subject him to the harshest of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a matter of revenge, if not using it to try and to obtain vital information (though it has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective).
But we must always remember that everyone we may happen to capture in this newly-dubbed "Long War" may not be a hardened terrorist. In fact, we have had many people in our detention system that were subjected to "harsh techniques," and were later found to be innocent. Most of those imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay were ultimately released because they were found to be innocent. So I believe that not only should the United States not engage in the torture at all, we should of course never torture innocent people in our custody.
Moreover, whenever I hear people talk about the torture of terror suspects, they repeatedly bring up the case that terrorists have beheaded innocent people, killed men, women, and children without any regard for human life. Yet, when has evil ever played fair? When has evil ever been civilized? In the Qur'an, there are several passages that detail the story of Adam and Eve, and it shows how evil has never acted on a level playing field. As the story in the Qur'an goes, God had shaped Adam with His very hands and breathed His spirit into Adam. God then ordered the angels -- Satan along with them -- to bow before Adam. Satan refused. "I am better than he," quipped Satan to God, "You have created me from fire, and You created him from mud."
God then expelled Satan from the Garden, and in revenge, Satan vowed to tempt Adam and his progeny away from the path of righteousness. Then God told Adam to "dwell you and your wife in this garden, and eat freely thereof, both of you, whatever you may wish; but do not approach this one tree, lest you become wrongdoers." (2:36) Satan immediately got started on Adam and his wife: "Your Lord has but forbidden you this tree," he said to them, "lest you two become [as] angels, or lest you live forever. And he swore unto them, 'Verily, I am those who wish you well indeed!" (7:20-21)
When they listened to him, they were expelled from the Garden, sent to live a temporary, yet difficult life on earth. God warns humanity about Satan and his tactics: "O Children of Adam! Do not allow Satan to seduce you in the same way as he caused your ancestors to be driven out of the garden...Verily he and his tribe are lying in wait for you where you cannot perceive them!" (7:27) Evil always plays dirty. Evil has no compunction from lying, cheating, and distorting the truth to achieve its ends. Evil can see us while we can't see them. Evil has never played fair -- that is its true nature.
When faced with the brutality of evil and the unfairness of evil, the true muster of a civilized people is how they respond. As President Obama said in his 100 Day news conference, "Part of what makes us, I think, still a beacon to the world, is that we are willing to hold true to our ideals even when it's hard, not just when it's easy."
If, in response to a truly vicious and brutal attack on our people, we respond by stooping to the level of our enemy, then what does that say about us? We are a better people than that. In the Ridley Scott film “Kingdom of Heaven,” the young Christian warrior Balian of Ibelin, on the verge of giving up Jerusalem to the Muslims, told Muslim leader Saladin that the Christians massacred every Muslim when they conquered Jerusalem, Saladin responded: "I am not one of those men." We must be the same; we are not one of those people to torture suspects in our custody.
The Quran says, "Never let the hatred of a people toward you move you to commit injustice..." (5:8) Christ said: "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven in perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Shouldn't we, as Americans, be, therefore, children of our Father in heaven? Shouldn't we, as Americans, be, therefore, perfect.