Over on the Small Wars Journal, in the comment thread under Malcolm Nance’s post, and in several dozen vitriolic emails I received this morning, I was accused of being (gasp!) a Liberal and an Idealist (I was also accused of being a ‘fag’, not really sure where that came from, it wasn’t exactly a literate message, though the author did know how to spell the f-word). This happens to me on a fairly regular basis. Oh the horror, the shame of it all.
Well for the record, I am not a liberal, big “L” or otherwise. I am also not a conservative, Neo or otherwise. I am also not a Green, a Libertarian, or a member of the Ayn Rand Fan Club (I am also not gay, but I honestly don’t give a flying fig if you think so, you illiterate asshat). My politics can best be summed up here. Frankly, even if there was a “Pull Your Head Out Of Your Ass and Show Some Common Sense Party” I probably wouldn’t join that either. My voter registration card says “Undeclared” so that makes it official. If you want my vote – well, pull your head out of your ass, don’t bullshit me, and show me the common sense. Frankly I don’t care what your party is. I don’t vote for political parties, I vote for a person and if you want that to be you – well, impress me.
However, I will admit to being an Idealist, with a capital “I.” It amuses me, when people accuse me of being an idealist - as if idealism was somehow a bad thing in and of itself. As if this country wasn’t founded by idealists. As if the Constitution wasn’t written by idealists. As if all of the men and women we admire throughout history weren’t, you know, idealists. Frankly I’d much rather associate with people who at least have some ideals that they’re passionate about, rather than some empty headed twit with no opinion and no ability to form an opinion like, well, sheep.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Idealists can be a major pain in the ass too, especially when their idealism is founded on some kind of demonstratably false information or just plain loony reasoning. I find these people especially dangerous and irritating, especially when they justify their beliefs with a web of continually shifting rationalizations and fanatical foregone conviction, instead of looking at the data and then drawing logical conclusions on which to base their idealism. I find nothing admirable about these people and I try to stay as far from them as possible. If you need an example: Young Earth Creationists.
Anyway, yes, I am an idealist. But I like to think that I’ve at least thought about my ideals. And that my ideals are mine, not something ironed on by my folks, or some church, or derived from the mob, or dictated by the media or popular hysteria or the administration. And even though I’m a dammed stubborn guy, and I am dammed passionate about my ideals, I will change my position if it can be reasonably demonstrated that it is wrong by competent authority, based on verifiable proof and not anecdotal ‘evidence.’
What prompted this accusation was my position on torture. I am against it. Period. In any way, shape, or form. For whatever reason, no matter how pure the motive. I do not want to live in a nation that tortures people - no matter how big of evil asshole they are. And I guess that makes me a liberal. However I have no problem taking that same asshole outside after his trial, putting him against the wall, and popping a cap in his ass. And I guess that makes me a conservative. I have no problem terminating with extreme prejudice any asshole who comes on my property and attempts to do me or mine harm, I own weapons and I dammed well know how to use them. And I guess that make me a libertarian. I don’t use lead ammo for environmental reasons, so in a way I guess that makes me a Green. I don’t buy into the whole “they use torture on our guys, so it’s ok to use torture on them” argument. Substitute the word ‘rape’ for ‘torture’ in that last sentence and see if it’s still acceptable to you. So I guess I’m a bit of a Rationalist as well.
With all that said, here’s why I am against torture. This was part of the comment I posted at SWJ (slightly cleaned up):
Mr. Evans, you are correct in your first assumption regarding my past, I was involved in operations that resulted in the deaths of human beings. I am proud of my actions and those of my team during such operations. However, you are incorrect in your implied assumption that I now second guess, or am opposed to, such actions because I witnessed death and destruction and, in fact, was responsible for some of it. I retired from active duty not because I became morally opposed to war, and its associated killing of human beings, but because I am no longer physically capable of performing the duties required to lead from the front, and my continued service might have put my own team at risk. The honorable course of action was to retire [and make way for somebody more capable]. However, if I were still capable, I would cheerfully return to combat duty, and I feel guilty that I'm home safe with my family when many of my men are not.
You asked specifically why I find killing (in combat) acceptable, but not waterboarding (and you may correctly assume that I am opposed to torture in any form), since the (assumed) objective of torture is not to kill. The answer is simple, and black and white. Killing in combat, when facing an armed and capable enemy, is a necessary evil. Your own life and the lives of your teammates are at risk. Force is applied until the enemy is no longer a threat - or you die. This is the nature of conflict, it is horrifying and brutal and nothing at all like the movies portray it to be (though Band of Brothers comes close). However, there comes a time when it is necessary to take life in order to preserve the greater good.
However, once the enemy becomes a prisoner and no longer has a means to resist, you become solely responsible for his or her life, well being, and treatment, both by our own code of conduct and by international agreement. This may be more difficult than actual combat; it is extremely difficult in some cases to treat a man, who has just tried to kill you, humanly. However, if you are unwilling or incapable, if you lack the moral courage, of accepting this responsibility, then you have no business leading the men and women of the US Armed Forces. I am opposed to torture for four main reasons:
1) The prisoner is no longer a threat. Yes, he remains a potential threat, which requires vigilance, control, and restraint. He is not entitled to anything other than the basic necessities of life, i.e. food, water, medical care, shelter, and protection from further harm. If you are unwilling or unable to provide such, don't take prisoners (and you may interpret that last however you like).
2) There are many means available to obtain information from the prisoner other than torture. I was an intelligence officer, I speak from experience. We have compromised our own honor by becoming torturers and what has it availed us? Name one major success derived strictly from information obtained via water-boarding. This conflict was supposed to have been about 911. And yet those responsible for financing and planning the attacks are still free and remain a significant threat. Water-boarding and torture have achieved us nothing, except the disgust and revulsion of free nations the world over.
3) It is hypocritical, dishonorable and contrary to the ideals of the Constitution, military regulation, the UCMJ, and international agreement. [Torture is also categorically contrary to the ideals of Christianity, which the majority of Americans, especially conservative Americans, claim to be. I find this a particularly curious and disgusting hypocrisy] Our government spent considerable time, effort, and money telling the world what a brutal, mass-killing, torturing tyrant Saddam was, and why his treatment of his own citizens and enemies justified our invasion even though the original bogyman of WMDs was found to be false. If torture is morally repugnant when our enemies do it, it is the height of hypocrisy for us to resort to the same methods. By resorting to torture, we have given legitimacy to every tyrant throughout history. By this faulty logic, Saddam was perfectly justified in his use of brutal torture against the Kurds, for example, in order to preserve national security within
4) Finally and most importantly, performing torture - no matter what euphemism you use or justification you use to rationalize it - makes you a torturer. Period. And it makes
Now is the time to choose. Now is the time to determine what legacy we will bequeath our children, and whether our children will see us as free men and women who upheld justice and took the high road, or whether we are little better than Saddam Hussein himself. You must choose what kind of
One final note on this very long post: I find it odd that when the Soldiers at Abu Ghraib used fire hoses and meat pyramids to humiliate and mock their prisoners and used electric shock and snarling dogs to instill utter fear and despair in those same prisoners, it was considered, by Liberals and Conservatives alike, a war crime and a criminal violation of human dignity and rights – and we sent those Soldiers to prison for their actions. Yet when water-boarding is used to humiliate and instill utter fear and despair in a prisoner, many conservatives and even some liberals see nothing wrong with it. I find this strange and disturbing, and I think that it is time for those people to sit down and examine their own idealism.