When and where

Published 10:17 am Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture is a distinctly un-American value and manner. It goes against everything we believe about freedom, liberty, truth, democracy, human worth, rights and fairness. When officials, in extreme situations, have felt forced to inflict torture, they haven’t been proud of it and the less said the better.

I abhor torture and speak against it.

Yet, we must now think about torture as policy, and President Barack Obama is challenging the national intelligence community about it. It’s a challenge to us all.

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Consider, then, this consciously hypothetical, but realistically probable scenario.

We have clear and compelling evidence that another terrorist attack is imminent, one that will be the worst ever with thousands of lives being lost. It’s location and method are unknown, as is the exact timing other than that it will occur within days or even hours.

We have recently arrested a man, already indicted for an earlier terrorist attack.

Moreover, we know him to be a key member of the very terrorist cell that will make this attack.

We also are certain, for very good reasons, that he knows all the details of the attack. If we can get him to talk, our chances of preventing the attack and saving thousands of lives are excellent.

This terrorist, however, is crafty and experienced in resisting interrogation. Fanatically committed to the terrorist cause, there is no chance of his ever willingly or consciously betraying his cause.

He is fully prepared to be killed, if not in the attack, then as punishment for refusing to reveal what he knows.

It is precisely in such situations specific torture has been proven successful in forcing out of a person something he would never be persuaded to give up. Unrelenting mental or physical pain, skillfully administered, has a good chance of yielding what we need to know to prevent the attack. And this is utterly the only way we can learn what is about to happen, and it will happen promptly.

Now, place yourself as an invited observer of this scene. At just what point will you plead with the interrogators to stop the torture?