Can we handle the truth?

One of the most controversial issues facing us as a country is the way we view treatment of captured terrorists. One side says we should never use coercive methods to obtain information, even if it would result in saving lives. The other side says we should use some techniques that have already been successfully used to avert catastrophes.

The term, "waterboarding" was introduced to our lexicon when it was revealed that the CIA was using it as a professional interrogation technique. Essentially, it means covering the prisoner's face with a cloth and tying him, face-up, to a board that is inclined downward. Then the interrogator pours water over the prisoner's face, giving the impression that he's drowning. Some have called the practice, torture, while others consider it to be an innocuous, but proven method of learning what terrorists have in store for us and preventing them from accomplishing their horrific goals.

It's difficult to have a reasonable discussion about inflicting pain and excruciating mental distress on other human beings in the pursuit of a noble cause. Civilized people want to believe that there is goodness and decency in all of God's creatures. Perhaps the impala and the wildebeest believe the same thing, until they get pulled down and ripped apart by the hungry lion.

Everything we've learned about terrorist groups like Al Qaeda tells us that they are committed to the destruction of western civilization. When they capture an American they don't waste time with concerns over treatment; they simple saw off the victim's head while he's struggling to survive. In addition, they videotape the savagery and broadcast it to the world as they celebrate their brutality with laughter and gaiety. Of course, opponents of harsh treatment of prisoners will say that our refusal to employ such tactics is what makes us different from them. I agree totally! We are different from them; we don't butcher our prisoners!

In the final analysis, this is a subject that must be viewed in personal terms. That's why the "ticking clock" scenario is relevant. In the hypothetical situation, our country has been attacked and we have arrested those responsible. We have good information that another attack is imminent and the prisoners know where and when it will take place. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives are at stake. Should we use harsh methods on the captives, who are already responsible for mass murder in the first attack, if we believe it will save those innocent lives slated to die in the second attack?

This is where it gets personal. Suppose members of your family would be spared a fiery death if you subjected the prisoners to waterboarding? Would you take a righteous stand against it and allow your loved ones to perish? If you would, I'd certainly question your judgment, if not your true feelings toward your family.

Let's suppose that you'd want the authorities to use every possible method to save your family. Most people with a pulse would feel similarly. But, when someone else's family is about to be incinerated, would you still be willing to have the murderers tortured if it was the only way to save those strangers? If your answer is no, then you obviously think your family is more important than your neighbors' family. Suppose we had captured some terrorists on September 10, 2001 and learned that a major attack was planned for the following day. Would it have been immoral to use forced interrogation to avert the 9/11 disaster?

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that many occupants of the World Trade Center were adamantly opposed to torture the day before the buildings fell. Furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that their surviving families have had a change of heart after experiencing first-hand what the terrorists are capable of. Sadly, it was too late for the victims; they didn't get a chance to change their views.

At an earlier time in our history, before we were exposed to all those clandestine efforts of our government to keep us safe, methods were used that might have sickened us if we were made aware. It reminds me of the words spoken by Jack Nicholson, playing a Marine Colonel in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, assigned the duty of protecting the mainland. "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it." I suppose the message was, and is, "We can't handle the truth!"

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
One of the most controversial issues facing us as a country is the way we view treatment of captured terrorists. One side says we should never use coercive methods to obtain information, even if it would result in saving lives. The other side says we should use some techniques that have already been successfully used to avert catastrophes.

The term, "waterboarding" was introduced to our lexicon when it was revealed that the CIA was using it as a professional interrogation technique. Essentially, it means covering the prisoner's face with a cloth and tying him, face-up, to a board that is inclined downward. Then the interrogator pours water over the prisoner's face, giving the impression that he's drowning. Some have called the practice, torture, while others consider it to be an innocuous, but proven method of learning what terrorists have in store for us and preventing them from accomplishing their horrific goals.

It's difficult to have a reasonable discussion about inflicting pain and excruciating mental distress on other human beings in the pursuit of a noble cause. Civilized people want to believe that there is goodness and decency in all of God's creatures. Perhaps the impala and the wildebeest believe the same thing, until they get pulled down and ripped apart by the hungry lion.

Everything we've learned about terrorist groups like Al Qaeda tells us that they are committed to the destruction of western civilization. When they capture an American they don't waste time with concerns over treatment; they simple saw off the victim's head while he's struggling to survive. In addition, they videotape the savagery and broadcast it to the world as they celebrate their brutality with laughter and gaiety. Of course, opponents of harsh treatment of prisoners will say that our refusal to employ such tactics is what makes us different from them. I agree totally! We are different from them; we don't butcher our prisoners!

In the final analysis, this is a subject that must be viewed in personal terms. That's why the "ticking clock" scenario is relevant. In the hypothetical situation, our country has been attacked and we have arrested those responsible. We have good information that another attack is imminent and the prisoners know where and when it will take place. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives are at stake. Should we use harsh methods on the captives, who are already responsible for mass murder in the first attack, if we believe it will save those innocent lives slated to die in the second attack?

This is where it gets personal. Suppose members of your family would be spared a fiery death if you subjected the prisoners to waterboarding? Would you take a righteous stand against it and allow your loved ones to perish? If you would, I'd certainly question your judgment, if not your true feelings toward your family.

Let's suppose that you'd want the authorities to use every possible method to save your family. Most people with a pulse would feel similarly. But, when someone else's family is about to be incinerated, would you still be willing to have the murderers tortured if it was the only way to save those strangers? If your answer is no, then you obviously think your family is more important than your neighbors' family. Suppose we had captured some terrorists on September 10, 2001 and learned that a major attack was planned for the following day. Would it have been immoral to use forced interrogation to avert the 9/11 disaster?

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that many occupants of the World Trade Center were adamantly opposed to torture the day before the buildings fell. Furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that their surviving families have had a change of heart after experiencing first-hand what the terrorists are capable of. Sadly, it was too late for the victims; they didn't get a chance to change their views.

At an earlier time in our history, before we were exposed to all those clandestine efforts of our government to keep us safe, methods were used that might have sickened us if we were made aware. It reminds me of the words spoken by Jack Nicholson, playing a Marine Colonel in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, assigned the duty of protecting the mainland. "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it." I suppose the message was, and is, "We can't handle the truth!"

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.