Coming to terms with "torture".

Posted by The Real Don Johnson on Saturday, May 23, 2009 5:33:25 AM

Coming to terms with "torture".

Like many Americans, I have been closely following the "torture" debate. There has been much angst and debate, and I have indeed been concerned. Has my government been engaging in the evil of torture? If so, then we have indeed slipped far down a slope that is filthy indeed.

I’ve heard a lot of the discussions and accusations, and have decided it’s time for me to weigh in. I’ll do this from several different angles, because for one thing, I don’t think the debate is being framed correctly in any way shape or form. The left has pronounced President Bush as a torturer, no black and white here, the verdict is in, and he is guilty. The conservative has yet to mount a defense, except to claim somewhat meekly "we don’t torture".

What is torture?

I wish first to come to a working definition of torture. I believe that certain things are black and white, "case closed". Such things as the laws of nature; you jump off a roof, and you fall to the ground, likely breaking a bone or two. Laws of economics; you spend more than you make, and you wind up broke. I believe the ten commandments are black and white, and you break them willfully at your own risk and peril.

I also believe some things have a degree of relativity about them, that certain things are comprised of a spectrum, not so easily qualified or quantified as black or white. The concept and definition of "torture", as it is being bantered around today is in this sort of spectral category.

Growing up in America, I learned about the torture regimes of history. The rack, impaling on stakes, quartering, breaking bones, disfiguring, pulling of fingernails and toenails, burial alive in ant hills, crucifixion, burning at the stake; typically resulting in extreme and prolonged pain followed by an agonizing death. We’ve all read about them, as well as the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet camps. These kinds of activities are easy to define as "torture", because indeed they are.

Then we come to such things as water-boarding and sleep deprivation, the so called "enhanced interrogation" methods. These actions don’t rise to the same level as the others I’ve described, even though they are rough. There is no prolonged pain, disfigurement or death involved.

Thus, I have come to terms with the Bush "enhanced methods", and do not believe them to rise to a reasonable definition of torture. Further, I object to the perversion of words such as torture. When we give all manner of latitude in defining a word or action, the word itself looses meaning as a useful tool, and it can mean whatever we wish it to be. Words should have meaning.


Motivation is also important when trying to determining what is, and what isn’t torture, and here I see several areas.

There is the basest of all motivations for torture; the perverted desire to inflict pain and suffering for the mere pleasure of doing so.

Another motive is control. Those seeking control of others often use torture as a means of keeping them in line with the agenda of the torturing regime. I place torture as punishment in this category.

Finally, there is the "noble, or righteous" motive. This is the "ticking bomb" motive, or the prevention of great damage. Charles Krauthammer makes a compelling case for this motive in his column Torture? No. Except…. I can accept this "noble" motivation as justification for the "enhanced methods" used on al-Qaeda captives, especially in the aftermath of 9/11/2001.

On the two criteria I’ve cited, I’ve concluded that the Bush administration acted properly, and in accord with what I expect of folks charged with defending this, the greatest nation on God’s green earth.

You may not agree, and that is your privilage.


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