Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Torture as a Tool of the Trade

Spoiler alert—for those who might not have watched the latest episode of Homeland, there’s a scene wherein CIA black-ops agent Peter Quinn takes a Pakistani operative into a safe location to unofficially “interrogate” him as to the whereabouts of a top terrorist who has just masterminded an invasion of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad that killed nearly 40 Americans. We’re given a quick view of a table laid out with tools of the counterintelligence trade, sharp reminders that gathering secret information is not always a clean, antiseptic affair. Next Sunday we will find out if and how Quinn extracted the info he is seeking, and how he will leave the operative, dead or alive.

It’s a TV show, but I seriously doubt more than a handful of viewers want Quinn to show restraint. A bullet to the head at the end of the “enhanced interrogation” is what they, really we, want. Revenge, plus the elimination of threats to our people, our way of life. 

The real-life debate on how to deal with terrorism suspects is on with the Tuesday release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA methods and effectiveness in post-September 11 America. By nature, I’m against torture. Wouldn’t want it done to me, or for me. But there’s always that nagging suspicion inside me that if time were a factor, if the “ticking bomb” scenario surfaced, I’d be okay with being less than above board (can you say, “waterboard”) with anyone who might have information to help us thwart an attack that would take lives.  

Let’s put legality aside. CIA apologists say the Justice Department green-lighted their activities. Of course, that’s like Nazi thugs hiding behind the Nuremberg Laws to justify their slaughter of innocents. I’ll leave it to the lawyers to parse the validity of the legal standing CIA agents and their contract players had in handling prisoners suspected of having information vital to our national safety.

It’s the moral compass of our country (and other democracies) that is at stake, a heading that cannot help but be directed by popular culture that shows Jack Bauer saving the U.S. in 24 hours, or 007 having an open license to kill on our behalf. 

Torture or not to torture. Common decency and humanity says not to. But our enemies are not decent. They are inhumane. So I’m stuck in a limbo of practicality vs. idealism. Obama campaigned on a platform of government transparency, an end to torture, the closing of Guantanamo. Geopolitical realities intercepted his follow-through. He’s become the drone president. 

I can’t condone torture, but I know it has been done and most probably will continue to be done on behalf of my safety and that of my fellow citizens. I reject the notion that we are more vulnerable because the Senate committee released its report. Fanatics will target us regardless. 

We are safer for the use of torture, but less the shining beacon of freedom we project as our image. Hypocritical, I know. But to many it’s a comfort to know our vigilance knows no bounds in a world where increasingly there are no boundaries on misbehavior.