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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Katherine Kersten's Korner

If today's Katherine Kersten kolumn is supposed to be an example of one of those scholarly-backed articles that Todd Flanders talked about yesterday, I really, really find it wanting. Maybe wanting is not the exact word. How about incredibly insulting?

The article is ostensibly about how we need to get al-Qaeda members to talk in order to gain intelligence on terrorist attacks. But the problem is that pesky human rights advocates just won't let good, moral, and decent people like John Yoo do whatever it takes to get those confessions out. See, according to Yoo, who was a lawyer at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel and analyzed the legal protections of prisoners, the Geneva Conventions are "documents designed for another age." The next time that American soldiers are captured by the enemy and tortured because their evil captors also believe that "The Geneva Conventions are designed for another age", I'm sure our soldiers will appreciate the fine legal wisdom that Yoo has shown us.

Next in the article comes the straw man, which must be, according to Kersten's supporters, a favourite of scholarly work. Kersten says, "Some human rights advocates insist that anything beyond simple questioning of Al-Qaida operatives -- tactics such as sleep deprivation, isolation and even loud music -- is barred as 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment." Maybe there are some human rights activists out there who think this. I don't know of any. Kersten tries to paint all opponents of torture as people who want to give al-Qaeda members a teddy bear and a cup of hot cocoa or something, but it ain't gonna work. People who are opposed to this administration's torture of prisoners have ample examples of real torture, not things like Britney Spears music at loud volumes. We are not flower-child wackos.

What comes next? The false dilemma! "I pose this question to human rights activists," says Yoo. " 'We've captured a top Al-Qaida leader, who knows of impending attacks. Would you be willing to do anything more than ask polite questions to prompt him to talk?" Yoo seems to imply that the only options are to ask polite questions or do whatever "need to be done." I don't know of anybody who thinks that interrogation should be limited to "polite questions." The very concept is insulting; we don't even limit Mike Tice to polite questions. But just because people think that polite questions are inadequate doesn't mean that we can buy Yoo's position that the Geneva Conventions are outdated and therefore we can do whatever we want to this hypothetical leader. It's possible to interrogate people without using torture and get useful information. In fact, not using torture is the only way to get useful information, as many people, like the Israelis, have learned.

Second, please, put down the remote! This is not the show 24, this is real life. And as much as torture advocates like to talk about the "ticking time bomb" argument for torture, it is not relevant. It simply does not happen enough so that there should be legalized exceptions to a ban on torture. Torture should be illegal period, just like murder. But sometimes with murder, there are certain extenuating circumstances that would make it pretty much impossible for a person who had no choice but to kill to be found guilty of the crime. If we did wake up on a Fox TV show and this ticking time bomb event did happen, even if torture were illegal, nobody would prosecute or convict.

Kersten ends with "...That day, we will wish we had stopped hurling insults at John Yoo and engaged him in a serious discussion." Based on Yoo's comments in her column, I have serious doubts that Yoo is capable of having a serious discussion about torture. Anybody who believes the Geneva Conventions are "outdated" and who believes that the anti-torture position can be summed up by requiring that interrogators do no more than ask "polite questions" is not somebody to be taken seriously. Neither is the person who puts him in her column.


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