Two Obvious Truths About the Torture Scandal

Obvious Truth #1: Let's say there's this terrorist, and he has plans to blow up a major US landmark, killing lots of people (maybe even your son or daughter!). I'm walking past his house, ten minutes before the bomb is set to go off, and I see the folder with his plans right there on his kitchen table! (He's perhaps not the most organized or secretive of terrorists.)

I can get the plans and save all those people's lives (maybe even your son's or daughter's!), but I have to break into his house to do it, and that's a crime. The answer should now be obvious to you: stealing should not be a crime! Still not convinced by my logic? This could really, really happen! I saw it on an old episode of SWAT (or was it Get Smart?). Why are you still opposing me? Why are you willing to put innocent American lives in danger? Tough guys (especially tough guys who got out of fighting real wars when they had a chance) rob houses.

(Back to reality.) There's lots of good debunking of ticking-time-bomb scenarios out there, but I have yet to see the simple point made that even if such a situation did arise (which in real life might happen once every decade or two), and even if torture would work in such a case (no real-life examples of that yet, outside of 24), that wouldn't justify a regime that makes torture legal. Torture is wrong, hideous, and abhorrent, and if you needed it for a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, you could get the equivalent of a judicial bypass, or warrant, from the President for that one occasion. But it makes no sense at all to torture what are likely innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, sold to US forces by their neighbors looking to make a buck, and justify it under the ticking-time-bomb scenario.

Obvious Truth #2: Torture is to the Iraq War what the internment of Japanese-Americans was to WWII. In both cases the exigencies of war created a special kind of hysteria that let us brand certain human beings as "others" and do unspeakable things to them, to our lasting national shame. Of course, even by these standards what we've done now is dastardly: at least the forces we fought in WWII posed much more of an existential threat to our country than Al Qaeda ever will, and even then we merely forcibly relocated innocent people rather than torture them.

It also follows that in 50 years (or maybe sooner), the US will officially apologize for what it's done here, just like we apologized to those interned during the Second World War. And I hope Condi Rice realizes that future school children will watch tapes of her, like others from the Bush Administration, still make the claim that "we didn't torture" and be told that yes, it's unbelievable that she could say something like that, but that's just an object lesson in what bad people do.