The “Torture” Memo; Barry’s Monica Lewinsky
War and tortue should be subjects abhorrent to those who value the protections and benefits of a constitutional republic and the rights secured by the Bill of Rights. We carefully parse the law to the nth degree in every capital punishment case. It may take ten or more years to bring such a case to its conclusion with the execution of a criminal. But, a single soldier with an automatic weapon or machine gun, a pilot releasing a cluster bomb, can kill more people in a mere instant than our criminal justice system will do in ten years of executing criminals.
In like fashion, torture, or some enhanced interrogation technique, very rapidly crosses the line over the right to not self-incriminate.
It is why it is best to treat acts of war as such and not as criminal proceeding. And, it is why it is best to conduct these acts of war far from our shores and our citizens. There are some acts, forced by extreme necessity that need to be, in every respect, utterly circumscribed.
Our country is populated with millions of military veterans, all decent and honorable people, who would care not to reflect on some of their actions when in combat. Actions made necessary by the desperation that is combat.
Yet, in this less than perfect world, evil people force otherwise peaceable people to undertake morally ambiguous actions. Actions, regardless of the immediate circumstances, that good people will never be comfortable reflecting upon in more comfortable times.
Further, in the hands of good people, these morally ambiguous actions are recognized as such. Which is why there are only applied in the most extreme of circumstances. The alleged “torture” of al Queda terrorists was not gratuitous sadism with the intent of coercing a “confession” for use in some propaganda show trial. Rather, it was applied to specific persons with the reasonable expectation that they did indeed possess specific and critical information needed to stop further terror acts and thereby save lives of innocent people. There simply is no moral equivalence between what the United States did with these interrogation techniques and the torture visited upon political prisoners in Stalin’s purges or Castro’s prisons. Or, despite our humane treatment of prisoners of war in our custody, the torture visited on our POW’s in the hands of the Japanese, North Koreans or North Vietnamese.
Then, there are the specific factors of specific circumstances. We’ve all, in taking Ethics 101 in college, debated the classic senario of a ticking atomic bomb in the middle of Manhattan, set to explode in one hour. And, we debated the ethics of torturing a prisoner, who knows the whereabouts of said bomb. Is it right to tortue? To what degree? Is it right to commit one atrocity to prevent an even greater atrocity?
I debated such in my own midnight dorm room bull sessions back in the late 1970’s. Back when the nuclear club was indeed very exclusive and the senario of a terrorist organization capable of such a situation was indeed very hypotheticalal. Today, this is no longer a hypotheticalal. We have a death-cult ideology, that is Islam, that would do such a thing in a heart beat. The death toll of 9/11 was only 3000 only because these terrorists could only commandeer civilian aircraft; not atom bombs. Now, we have the Taliban making moves to entirely destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan and potentially gain excess to those very weapons. Millennials now with the means to really deliver.
If our Ethics 101 senario did indeed happen today (and, it’s very plausible), would those charged with national security be morally obligated to even pull out every finger nail to find that bomb? Or, would you be content to just inform that terrorist of his Miranda rights?
But, Obama, in his overweening sense of moral superiority and self-righteousness probably never gave the above the slightest thought. That beyond the immediate bounds of the current debate on waterboarding, there is a bigger question to be answered. That question is that there are times when good people must commit to morally ambiguous actions that they, in their worst nightmares, would never even dream of doing, because of pressing and real concerns that evil, even greater than their actions, must be stopped. And, now people who were never directly in the maw of those front line decisions will, years later, second guess with the threat of criminal prosecutions.
Additionally, along the lines of Monica Lewinsky, this controversy now becomes an issue that will so consume Washington as to consume Obama’s agenda. Bill Clinton had an opportunity to create a durable center-left governing coalition. But, Clinton along with his partisan fellow-travelers decided, in 1992, that the millennium arrived and decided to push as far left as possible. And, that was before Clinton’s own proclivities intruded with his extra-curricular sexual appetites and escapades finally ground down any agenda in the bonfire of the Lewinsky impeachment scandal.
And, here is the “scandal” that will grind Obama’s agenda to a halt. Releasing these so-called torture memos is an act of a narcissist so impressed with himself and his mission that he will sacrifice national security with a distraction of banana republic-style show trials. It is yet another example as to Obama’s lack of executive experience and fitness to lead. True executive experience would have informed Obama to pace and prioritize his agenda. To build public confidence in his leadership by systematically building a record of accomplishment and then using the record to pitch further agendas to a public more confident and more reassured of his leadership capacity. True leadership and executive experience would have also informed Obama that there are just some items that will distract you from the really big, important stuff. There are items that you just let go; its just not worth it. True leadership and executive experience means making choices and saying “no.”
Getting through this economic meltdown should be his only priority. He does that successfully, and he’s going to have the running room to put forth the rest of his agenda.
It is possible, at this late date, that if Obama gets in front of this problem and flat out says no to hearings, prosecutions, commissions or investigations that he could quell the firestorm he just touched off. But, even then, there will be a residual of distrust. As it stands, we have the makings of 41 GOP senate votes to make each and every filibuster now stand. This issue, if not ended quickly and definitively, will indeed result in open warfare on the Senate floor with scorched parliamentary tactics that will freeze the entire Obama agenda. Making, ultimately, Obama’s four years as president a mere asterisk as the first black president. Even Senator Reid realizes that; which is why he’s trying to tamp down Speaker Pelosi’s “truth” commissions. No, this is not (yet) a banana republic. This is a constitutional republic of constrained powers. Prime Minister Obama better start realizing that Alinsky is not a good governing role model.