Thursday, April 23, 2009

Random Musings on the Toture Memos

I haven't talked about this issue because it is one so fraught with emotion. But I'be decided to wade in the waters and share some thoughts:

  • While I think Obama did the right thing in releasing the memos, I think that if one is going to prosecute (something that I am wary of) then you need to not only prosecute the "intellectual authors" but those who carried it out. I will use my only reference to Nazis in saying that what we learned from the Nurmeberg Trials is that simply following orders is no excuse. Yes, I know CIA agents get their orders and act within a legal framework, but there is also a moral framework as well. I also think only going after the lawyers and up from there tends make this all look like a vendetta against the Bush Adminstration than it does trying to find out what happened and how to guard ourselves from it ever happening again.
  • On the topic of prosecutions, the whole thing makes me feel uneasy. It might seem trivial, but I wonder if such an adventure would be seen as impartial and willing to seek justice or as a partisan vendetta. Maybe it doesn't mean a lot to try to find ways to bring our nation together, but there is something to be said about trying not further divide the nation with trials that make one side happy and another mad. It's the old conservative nostrum: actions have consequences. Just as those who authorized torture might be facing a judgement day for crimes committed, there will be a consquence for having said trial and it might be a bad outcome for the future of our nation. If there are prosecutions and trials, there has to be a mammouth effort to make sure that there isn't even a trace of partisanship.
  • Republican Peter Hoesktra of Michigan says Congress knew of the decisions to torture, but his writings leave out; who in Congress knew? What did they know? Did they know the exactly that the CIA was torturing people? It could be that Republican and Democratic leaders did know about this, and if they did, they should answer for it. But Hoekstra doesn't say anything at all about who knew, what did they know and when did they know it.
  • I think it's important to talk about the context in which the decision to torture was made. Jeff Jacoby makes an interesting case in a recent op-ed about in the days and months following 9/11 how American society was wanting for ways to prevent another attack, even if that meant using some harsh methods. Jacoby shares an article by Jonathan Adler in 2001 where he wondered if it was time to use torture ala Israel. Jacoby goes a bit too far in saying that these methods prevented an attack, but he was correct in saying that context does matter, not in excusing the abuses, but at least in understanding why they might have happened. I think in those days after 9/11 many of us entertained thoughts of the "gloves" coming off to protect hearth and home.
  • I am bothered by the use on both sides of the issue of using something based on its effectiveness. Many conservatives who favor the harsh techniques think it was worth it since it prevented attacks and well, there are not nice people. Many liberals tend to say that torture never works, saying it is ineffective. It seems that both sides try to make a cost-benefit analysis on the issue, when what matters here is not that as much as it is a moral question. If something is effective, is it moral? Torture might be effective in stopping an attack, but just because it works, does that mean we should use it? And just because we use it on really bad people, does that make it okay? Even bad, evil people have certain rights and good people have certain standards. I agree with Megan McArdle on this one.

So those are my thoughts. I do have one final one: I think that we should have some sort of commission detailing these issues and not do any prosecutions. I think what is important is finding out what happened and how to prevent it.

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