March 17th, 2006
Hear me out. Valerie Plame, the outed (by the Bush Administration) American covert CIA agent, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the last high-level Al Qaeda prisoner to be taken alive, have a lot in common.
Both have been the subjects of illegal and unconstitutional -- if not treasonous -- acts committed by American government employees.
Both could have been, and in KSM's case were, subjected to torture, as a result of U.S. government employees' actions. Valerie Plame was in immediate danger upon being outed, as were (and are) all her previous contacts, as far back as any investigator can go. She, and all her contacts, whether they are also covert operators or not, are now subject to a LIFETIME THREAT of abduction and torture by America's many enemies, including both the state and stateless variety.
Had she not been outed by members of the Bush Administration, she, and everyone she knows, would not be under this threat.
And what of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? Who cares about him? I do. I do because no man (person) is an island, and I do not seek to know for whom the bell tolls. But I care for practical reasons, too.
I care because I do not want the Americans who are doing the "water-boarding" and fingernail-pulling and so on to be walking free among other Americans, thinking there is ever an excuse to do that to anyone. Thinking THEY will get away with it.
I care because KSM is STILL the LAST high-ranking Al-Qaeda member to be captured alive. Would YOU give yourself up, knowing full well that what your AMERICAN TORTURER will dish out will be as bad as anything you've ever read in a book or seen on television or in the movies, be it a Nazi Concentration Camp, a Japanese POW camp, or an American Civil War POW camp (either side), or anywhere else inhumane acts of horror were routinely committed and officially sanctioned at some (often very high) level?
MOST people WOULD fight to the death, knowing that their fate otherwise will be what we've done to KSM, and knowing that if they survive the initial interrogations, which could go on for years, THEN they'll get to be treated like a dog in Gitmo, and possibly be tortured for decades, their families never knowing their fate. Would YOU fight to the death rather than risk that? Of course you would. So it's no wonder KSM is STILL the last big Al Qaeda member we've captured, and it's NO WONDER so many choose suicide bombing over conventional fighting, when the inevitable result -- for them -- is death in any case -- if they are lucky, and torture if they are not.
Another reason not to torture our captives, which I touched upon earlier, is that we must not do anything that would encourage torture of ANY of our contacts who happen to be captured by ANY of our enemies EVER. Not that they won't be, sometimes, anyway. But we mustn't do ANYTHING to increase it. We mustn't put ourselves in a position where the terrorists want to bring the level of torture UP just to match our own methods!
And another reason not to use torture: If prisoners are treated humanely and our cause is just, then sometimes a prisoner will "see the light" and willingly change sides. One of those people is more valuable than a small army, either as "propaganda" (let us use the word "testimonial" instead!) or as a NEW, COVERT operative who can be sent back into "the field" to help America defend itself.
And another reason: By and large, torture doesn't even work! Experts discount much of KSM's testimony. (One claim he made which I would NOT discount -- even if the so-called "experts" do -- is that Al Qaeda intends to attack America's nuclear power plants.) Even when torture does appear to work, the real question is whether it works BETTER than other, less vile, methods of interrogation. Does it provide more reliable answers, faster and more often? Does it solve more problems than it creates, assuming it solves anything? The answer to those questions -- according to the experts -- is a resounding "NO." And to whatever extent torture DOES work, it's probably assumed that it works BEST when the torturer is most experienced. One can assume that only "highly trained, EXPERIENCED" torturers were used on KSM. But by then, the torturer is SURELY a monster, themselves. Indeed, can anyone really get past the FIRST TIME they torture another human being, with their own humanity still intact? Do they get their humanity BACK when it becomes ROUTINE for them? I doubt it.
So TAKE YOUR PICK of reasons why American soldiers and prison guards (and their private sub-contractors) should not torture the prisoners they hold. But by all means PICK ONE, and write your elected officials TODAY.
I recently read First Into Nagasaki, highly recommended, written by war correspondent George Weller (1907 - 2002), with additional commentary by his son Anthony Weller. It is a gripping account not only of the atomic bomb's effects, but also of the degree to which torture of prisoners can become INSTITUTIONALIZED, and happen for NO apparent reason.
What will WE do in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan? Employ our own experienced torturers in our own prisons -- just for the tough cases, of course (at least at first)?
And what of Valerie Plame's past contacts, probably 95% of whom are completely innocent of any complicity, but merely helped an American tourist (who happened to be a covert CIA agent at the time) get her laundry done in a foreign city, because they run a laundromat there, or some similar task?