Change America’s symbol.
Gone should be the majestic bald eagle, soaring icon of strength, courage and determination.
In its place? The Pillsbury Doughboy – fat, soft, and squishy.
Nowhere is that more apropos than the continuing controversy over enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) used by the CIA against terrorists. Abandoning those methods was bad enough, but the fact that we’re debating just how regally we should be treating our enemies makes them stronger, and gives them a good laugh. Ironically, after the next catastrophic attack, the same people criticizing EITs will be front-and-center condemning the government for allowing us to be hit again, wondering how the unthinkable could have happened.
Let’s save them the trouble of thinking too hard. America’s self-inflicted vulnerabilities are being exploited by the very people we are making ever-so-comfortable. Our love affair with political correctness makes the nation weaker, and, as any third-grader can tell you, weakness invites aggression.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the truth, and misconceptions, behind enhanced interrogation:
1) Stop mincing words. Enhanced interrogation is torture. It is inflicting mental, psychological and yes, sometimes physical anguish on individuals who hold crucial information. So what’s the problem? As John Malkovich’s character, General Timms, says in "Mulholland Falls," "A hundred may die so that a thousand may live … it’s a cornerstone of civilization." The EIT critics need to ask themselves on which side of that equation they want to be.
2) Rather than EIT proponents running away from the word "torture," they should be embracing it and explaining its merits. Here’s an idea: Air a commercial with a side-by-side comparison of America versus al-Qaida/ISIS. Sure, America waterboards and rectally rehydrates (which is just a fancy word for a high-dollar colonic), but how is that compared to castration, burning, hanging, and, as we know all too well, decapitating on the world stage? You cannot fight a war with caveats and restrictions under the misguided pretense of "civility." That’s not to say we should engage in the terrorists’ methods, but let’s keep in mind that what we do isn’t remotely close to the real torture they joyfully inflict.
Note: There is a line we must not cross, as it exceeds cruel and unusual punishment: Blasting nonstop Bee Gees music. Five minutes is torture enough. But hours? No human should be made to endure such hell.
3) There is a myth that torture doesn’t work, and specifically, that detainees will tell their interrogators false information just to stop the pain. Whoever came up with that completely warped theory should themselves be subjected to EITs; bet the ranch we’d see a record for how fast they’d give up their own mother.
Inflicting pain to extract information intuitively works, and has been done since the dawn of human history. Need proof? Just look at every family in the world. Sibling A hides sibling B’s iPad. After repeated "nice" attempts to acquire it fail, sibling B twists the arm of sibling A and guess what? Sibling A gives up the info. Quickly. Voila.
Here’s the best part. If sibling A purposely gives sibling B bad information, the level of pain will increase exponentially once the iPad is not found. This isn’t a hard concept to understand. We should deal with terrorists the same way; the only differences are the methods employed, since Mr. Al Q. Aeda isn’t hiding an iPad, but a bomb.
4) Let’s assume one criticism to be true: The detainee who gave us crucial information about Osama bin Laden’s courier (which led us to bin Laden himself) was not extracted using EITs. Fine. Then what led him to turn on his own people? By definition, if we didn’t use interrogation methods, and we obviously know his intelligence was good, then the only explanation is that he had a change of heart. Sorry, but that simply doesn’t pass the sniff test.
Even the dumbest detainee knows that if he freely gave up bin Laden, he’d be dead within 24 hours of being set free. That’s how it works. So the only rational conclusion is that EITs were successful in locating bin Laden. And that should be enough justification for everyone.
5) If, as the reports claims, the CIA interrogated the wrong people, that’s a competence issue, and a legitimate complaint. But it has nothing to do with EITs themselves. Mixing apples and oranges needlessly clouds the debate.
Utilizing torture isn’t done for retribution. Rather, it is a means to a very important end. High-value detainees hold critical information that, if extracted, could save thousands of lives. Who is making IEDs? Who’s making the airplane bombs hidden in laptop batteries? Where are their facilities? Who is the ballistics mastermind? Most important, who is seeking, designing, manufacturing and transporting chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear bombs? Where are the devices located, what are the targets, and what is the timetable?
This isn’t a videogame or a fictitious episode of "24," but a real-life threat that every one of us faces, every day. If not EITs, then what? That’s not a rhetorical question. Specifically, if not torture, what’s our hammer? Asking politely is foolish, and expecting a change of heart is naïve. This information is hard to come by under the best circumstances. Not using methods that produce results (which aren’t even killing people) when thousands, perhaps millions, of lives are at stake is inexcusable.
6) "Just because our enemy does something doesn’t mean we should lower ourselves to their level." Really? Is that how wars are supposed to fought? We utilized the concept of total warfare in World War II, including fire-bombing Dresden and Tokyo, which killed more civilians than either atomic bomb. Was it immoral? Unethical? Did we lower ourselves to the enemy’s level? Maybe. But guess what? It helped end the war, saving millions on all sides.
We live in the real world, not insulated ivory towers where it’s so easy to spout self-righteous platitudes and cast aspersions on those charged with protecting life and liberty.
CIA interrogators are not romantics who live in poems. Unfortunately, unseemly methods need to be employed. It’s perfectly acceptable if some can’t stomach it, but let’s stop demonizing those whose job is protecting America from horrific attacks. And as far as the few unnamed CIA employees who, according to the Senate report, supposedly "teared up" over the techniques used, they need to find a new line of work.
Just as Rome sent the message that any transgression against even one of its citizens would be met with a massive response, so too should America be clear that our citizens have the full protection of the United States government. We don’t kill or torture innocents (unlike our enemy, as the Taliban’s revolting massacre of 84 Pakistani children attests), but we will go to the ends of the Earth to keep our people safe, using whatever means are necessary. And if that means enhanced interrogation, and yes, torture, so be it.
Jack Nicholson’s Col. Nathan Jessup says it best in "A Few Good Men:" "We live in a world that has walls that have to be guarded … and my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives …. 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 that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. "
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].