- Given how much you rightly hate torture, why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose prisons engaged in far more hideous tortures, on thousands of times more people, than America did -- all of whom, moreover, were individuals and families who either did nothing or simply opposed tyranny? There is a difference between actually performing torture and not being able to prevent it. In the case of Iraq, we had no real legal or moral basis for declaring war, and many more people have died as a result of our Iraq adventures than Hussein ever killed. I guess I'd flip the question around on you: considering that a big part of the case for the Iraq War was the very sort of abuses Mr. Prager mentions, why did he support the Iraq War (presumably) if torture isn't that big a deal? He says that waterboarding isn't a big deal compared to killing someone, which I'll admit, but that he cannot see that, by supporting torture, he surrenders the moral high ground.
- Are all forms of painful pressure equally morally objectionable? No. But those things that are banned by Geneva and American law are banned for a reason, and just because al-Qaeda is a bunch of brutal murderers doesn't give us a right to do things that are less wrong and call ourselves moral. It just means we're less wrong. I realize that relativism has completely enveloped the right, but they need to realize that you can't both valorize torture and talk about how the evilness of terrorists justifies it.
- Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time -- even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives -- wrong? If there is no question about the identity of a terror suspect , and he can provide information on al-Qaida -- for the sake of clarity, let us imagine that Osama Bin Laden himself were captured -- could America do any form of enhanced interrogation involving pain and/or deprivation to him that you would consider moral and therefore support? In other words, the ticking time bomb scenario. Which, according to former FBI Agent Jack Cloonan and recently the United States Senate, among others, has never occurred. Things like this make me crazy. Stop watching 24, and let's realize that life isn't like that.
But to take on this trumped up argument: in the event that we had a suspect who is absolutely known to have information on a specific pending terror attack (something so far unknown to happen), who has been uncooperative using traditional interrogation methods, and thousands of lives are on the line? I'll admit that I would probably consider it if I was in power at that time. But what we've learned from the Bradbury Memo and the Senate Report wasn't that torture was used judiciously in exactly these sorts of circumstances, but rather to provide intelligence for the Bush Administration's case for war in Iraq, and institutionalized in places like Gitmo as a standard way of dealing with high-profile detainees. This is, of course, rather different from the ticking time bomb. And this is why I think a blanket ban is appropriate not only from a moral but also a practical perspective--it can be a very appealing way of making intelligence gathering easier. It's inevitably a slippery slope. I think we ought to just stay off it.
And, there's the little wrinkle that a ticking time bomb would probably make a suspect less likely to talk because they'd be that much closer to accomplishing their goal. Something for the right to think about in between 24's commercial breaks, perhaps.
- If lawyers will be prosecuted for giving legal advice to an administration that you consider immoral and illegal, do you concede that this might inhibit lawyers in the future from giving unpopular but sincerely argued advice to the government in any sensitive area? They will, after all, know that if the next administration disapproves of their work, they will be vilified by the media and prosecuted by the government. If the advice was offered in good faith I wouldn't support prosecution. If not, then I would. This is why we need more investigation of all of this morass. But, from what I've read, the legal work was shoddy enough to merit the impeachment of Judge Bybee and the disbarrment of all the lawyers who wrote these memos. They fail to meet even a borderline standard of competence. So this ought to be straightforward.
And, as I've said before, I don't mind the precedent of former presidents being hauled into trial for breaking the law. That precedent would make all future inhabitants of the Oval Office so assiduous to avoid even small legal violations that we could end the sort of executive branch illegality overnight. Rule of law would become far more than a theoretical concept in Washington. I don't see why this is a bad thing, and public disapprobation of Bush simply isn't enough for a man who never seemed to care if he was loved or hated.
- Presumably you would acknowledge that the release of the classified reports on the handling of high-level, post-Sept. 11 terror suspects would inflame passions in many parts of the Muslim world. [snip] Do you accept any moral responsibility for any ensuing violence against American and other civilians? No more than the people who actually did this shit in the first place. They should have considered the possibility that word would get out, and the impact on Muslim public opinion then, or perhaps before the Iraq War, where most of the country was staunchly behind Saddam and, in any event, loathed America much more.
- Many members of the intelligence community now feel betrayed and believe that the intelligence community will be weakened in their ability to fight the most vicious organized groups in the world. [snip] If, then, the intelligence community has been adversely affected, do you believe it can still do the work necessary to protect tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people from death and maiming? I'd like them to, you know, follow the law. In any event, it's not like the techniques were new: waterboarding has been around for ages. A lot of our torture techniques came out of the SERE program for military officers, which taught the military how to withstand torture and was created during the Cold War. Which means, of course, that the techniques used against terror detainees were the same ones used by the Communists against Christians, liberal reformers and political prisoners to extract false confessions. If that doesn't make you sick to your stomach, I don't know what will.
I realize that we don't know the whole story about what information was extracted from these terrorists, but let me just say this: I would give up a scoop here and there to protect us from compromising our morality and, practically speaking, giving al-Qaeda an invaluable recruitment tool. When you're fighting both sides of the War on Terror it's pretty difficult to win it.
- Will you seek to prosecute members of Congress such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who were made aware of the waterboarding of high-level suspects and voiced no objections? Yes. I don't know what she'd be prosecuted for, exactly, but justice knows no party. I suspect that most liberals feel the same way. This is, of course, antithetical to the group solidarity ethic of the right, but what's right is right. Let's have an investigation, and let the chips fall where they may.
- Would you agree to releasing the photos of the treatment of Islamic terrorists only if accompanied by photos of what their terror has done to thousands of innocent people around the world? I think this question is irrelevant. We do to them, they do to us. It doesn't elevate us, it diminishes us. It's relativism, pure and simple--if the other guys are worse than us, our sins don't count.
Now, I know Mr. Prager isn't a Christian, but I am, and that's not how it works for me. What we see here, again and again, is an attempt to try to reframe the question about whether torture is moral as a question of whether we're worse than the terrorists. Okay, I'll admit, we're not as bad as the terrorists. I concede that point. All I'm saying is that torture is wrong--not as wrong as lopping somebody's head off, but wrong nonetheless. That's what's at issue here, fundamentally.
- You say that America’s treatment of terror suspects will cause terrorists to treat their captives, especially Americans, more cruelly. On what grounds do you assert this? Did America’s far more moral treatment of Japanese prisoners than Japan’s treatment of American prisoners in World War II have any impact on how the Japanese treated American and other prisoners of war? Do you think that evil people care how morally pure America is? There is a point here. Not torturing people isn't going to make al-Qaeda love us or treat us better, though Jane Mayer does catalogue some people who were surprised that they weren't tortured by American forces and actually started talking.
No, Mr. Prager, I'm not particularly interested in what the al-Qaeda psychos think. I'm interested in what moderate Muslims who have to choose between us and al-Qaeda think. I'm interested in what Europe thinks. I'm interested in what the rest of the world thinks. Why? Because this nation has stood as an example of freedom for over 200 years. It holds the graves of men and women who died to keep that dream alive. Men and women who died in far-off battlefields so that we could continue our experiment. American power is not and never has been based on military might or economic might but rather on moral authority. Trust me, we didn't win the Cold War because we had a better intelligence service (we most certainly didn't) and not because we could have taken Russia after WWII (we would have been annihilated), but rather because we presented a vision to the world that was more appealing than the superficially attractive but ultimately self-defeating contradictions of communism. And we did that without torturing a single Russian. Imagine that.
I do find this line the most interesting: "Do you think that evil people care how morally pure America is?" It seems almost an admission that torture is wrong, and that it's justified because evil people want to kill us. What this quote indicates, really, is a conservative movement that has largely given up on questions of justice and morality and given into a sort of nihilistic relativism, predicated largely on in-group loyalty. One hears echoes of the sort of "nobody can judge us because nobody can understand us" notions that proliferated in places like Japan, Italy and Germany after WWI with the emergence of fascist regimes. I might have just broken Godwin's Law, but I'm not saying that Republicans are Nazis. They're not even close, and they're on the decline rather than gaining in power. America isn't the Weimar Republic. I am merely saying that the sort of civilizational decay that one found in those places--indifference toward the rule of law and justice justified by a narrative of external danger and unfair victimization, which exempts the group in question from outside judgment--is shockingly similar to what one finds if one reads history about those places.
I suppose I have some questions for Mr. Prager:
- Are there moral absolutes that don't have to do with sex?
- If the State of Israel could survive for the duration of its existence without institutionalized torture, why can't we?
- If you feel torture is completely justified, and the interrogators found evidence of terror plots in progress, what is there to fear from more disclosure? Won't the public see them as heroes? Or are you worried that the more the public hears about the Bush Administration's interrogation program, they less they'll like?
- You alternately say that you're worried about enflaming Muslim opinion by disclosing documents, while you also say that you don't care what al-Qaeda thinks about what we do. Had it occured to you that incidents like Abu Gharaib might lead to al-Qaeda getting more converts? That it might radicalize Muslims that might have supported us into opposition?
- And, finally, Ronald Reagan signed the Convention Against Torture into law after it was overwhelmingly ratified by Congress. Since Reagan is considered the ne plus ultra of conservatism, could you explain why exactly he was wrong, and what core principle of conservatism he violated?