Rough Ride Ahead

February 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

There are many fallacious arguments which contend that waterboarding prisoners is not torture. Before we begin crafting a nosology of those arguments, I am going to reiterate and expand a little on why waterboarding is the San Juan Hill of the torture debates.

It isn’t because the problem of torture can be reduced to “just three guys waterboarded,” at all. There are many other battlefields which are just as important or even more important. Broken down very generally, there are alleged cases where prisoners died under officially sanctioned torture. There are allegations of renditions. (Links provided just as examples: fully documenting all this is beside the point, as we’ll see in a moment). There are the allegations of forced nudity in front of women, and the sexual stuff. Beyond that, there is the issue of alleged abuses occurring in a kind of “gray area”, where currently-illegal things were done to prisoners with the approval of superiors, before the officially sanctioned “enhanced interrogation techniques” were put into place. Beyond that still lies illegal abuses putatively brought about by the “climate of abuse” that all this entailed, and still further along the chain of Being are the “Jack Bauer” culture and the formal cooperation of millions of individuals with torture. It is important to keep all of these distinct, and there may be other distinctions as well: it isn’t my intention here to provide a comprehensive or even particularly coherent account of all of it, let alone to pass particular judgments, in this paragraph.

Because when we focus in specifically on waterboarding prisoners as a moral issue for Catholics, the word “alleged” goes away. One thing that everyone now agrees on is the background facts: we waterboarded those three prisoners until they broke and they started singing. And we did it with full authorization from the top down.

If by doing that we are guilty of torturing prisoners, this implies that we must repent, we must turn back, we must forsake the direction which took us to that point. Once you plant a seed, it grows: there is no standing still. Griswold vs Connecticut led directly to Roe vs Wade. If what we did was torture that means that there is no way further forward: that the way forward leads to Hell, and we must turn back from it.

Waterboarding isn’t the whole battle, by any means. It is a very small part of it, in truth. But it is the tip of the spear in the torture debates.

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