“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” Jon Stewart.
The word torture is once again in the air and permeating the airwaves and the national consciousness. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of torture reminds us all of those horrible years when questioning whether waterboarding people was moral could get you branded as a traitor. All of a sudden, we’re revisiting 2006.
Let’s be very clear: the question is not whether the torture resulted in actionable intelligence. The question is whether that intelligence could have been obtained with less abusive methods. The Senate report indicated that was the case, and all that I’ve read, both before and after the report came out, agreed with that assessment. Actually, the question is whether obtaining that intelligence is worth tossing out our common values, exposing ourselves as moral hypocrites, giving jihadists spectacular recruitment fodder, eroding our nation’s standing (and worse, our future security), and dishonoring our country.
No, it isn’t. It never can be.
Former CIA covert operations officer Valerie Plame (yes, that Valerie Plame) pointed out the essential issue with pinpoint accuracy. “Whatever little bit [of information that] was obtained was certainly not worth throwing away some core values of who we like to think of as Americans,” Plame said. In another interview, this time with msnbc, Plame pointed out that if these techniques were being used on American troops, there would be a deafening clamor protesting against what would be widely (and accurately) seen as torture.
Dick Cheney disagrees. When asked if he would support using “enhanced interrogation techniques” — torture — again, he replied “In a heartbeat.” When further asked if the ends justified the means, he did not hesitate a second before answering “absolutely.” He engages in the most vile form of realpolitik, a crude utilitarianism in which the only people who matter in the cost-benefit analysis are Americans.
In doing so, Cheney willfully misrepresents the Geneva conventions. He conveniently ignores Ronald Reagan’s signing of international Convention Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment. He disregards morality and the common humanity we share with those we have captured. I might chalk all this up to simple stupidity, except that Cheney is not a stupid man. He is smart, unprinicipled, and amoral.
Unlike Cheney, the men who founded the United States were not utilitarians. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were born of the idea that individuals have, as they said, certain inalienable rights. Sometimes we have failed to put our ideals into practice (those inalienable rights did not always extend to African-Americans, or natives. or women), but that does not mean that we have not strived to live up to them to our (often poor) ability to do so.
That Dick Cheney refuses to even give lip service to those ideals shows that, unlike most of those he accused of being unpatriotic, he really doesn’t believe in our nation’s common values. I will not call him a traitor, but simply a rank political opportunist, interested in being able to portray himself as zealously guarding America’s security. This, while every detainee waterboarded, forced to stand upright for forty-eight hours, or subjected to “rectal hydration” undermines our national safety.
Dick Cheney: American (Anti-)Patriot.