Answer the Question: Is Waterboarding Torture?

Last week, Bob Owens published a post entitled, “The Pro-Torture Obama Justice Department” on his blog, Confederate Yankee. It’s a short and succinct piece, and I have his permission to publish it in full here at Grand Rants.

Mr. Owens writes:

“We’re against torture and for going after those who advocate it—except when we feel justified in using the same argument, of course.”

That there is a torture “debate” shows that we have both immature and immoral intellects in positions of power. “Enhanced interrogation”—and indeed, outright medieval torture tactics (if they were actually effective, and I don’t think they are)—are of course morally justified to save the lives of hundreds or thousands.

Immorality as it relates to the use of torture to extract information from known terrorists regarding imminent threats is easily defined as hiding behind abstract ideals and culturally-comfortable moral constructs to justify doing less than everything possible to save Americans lives. Period. It is the leftist position, commonly cited as the “anti-torture” position that is morally bankrupt here, without question.

Since it apparently needs to be said: YES, our lives are more important than the rights or lives of terrorists.

When terrorists embrace a belief system and moral code that defines civilians as legitimate targets, they forfeit their their rights.

As someone said elsewhere, if you want a true definition of torture, make someone choose between burning alive or plunging 80 stories to their death. If such a choice can be avoided by waterboarding a terrorist, then the only moral thing to do is to waterboard him, and it is the people who argue otherwise who are morally-stunted children.

I think Mr. Owens hit a home run with that piece, and the clincher is his last paragraph, which I’ll repeat:

“As someone said elsewhere, if you want a true definition of torture, make someone choose between burning alive or plunging 80 stories to their death. If such a choice can be avoided by waterboarding a terrorist, then the only moral thing to do is to waterboard him, and it is the people who argue otherwise who are morally-stunted children.”

However, Owens seems to be writing from the initial premise that waterboarding is, in fact, torture. Many reasonable people so believe. But I must disagree with Mr. Owens on this issue. Waterboarding, as it has been defined, and as it was used on the three high-value prisoners back in 2002-2003, simply does not meet the criteria for torture set out by our own justice department.

So first of all, let’s take a look at what the U.S. Government means when it refers to torture. According to the Department of Justice, the verb, “to torture” means:

“…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

So we have a three-part definition of the word; severe pain and suffering intentionally inflicted on a person for:

  • Obtaining information or a confession
  • Punishing him for an act he committed (or is suspected of having committed)
  • Intimidating or coercing him

I haven’t seen anyone argue that the waterboardings were performed for anything other than obtaining information, so right away we can see that waterboarding as punishment and waterboarding as intimidation are moot.

Moving along from the definition of the word, let’s take a look at the parameters of the act itself, according to the DoJ:

[A]n act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from

(1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;

(2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;

(3) the threat of imminent death; or

(4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

Now please bear in mind that we are referring to three hardened terrorists in our custody (Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubayadah, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed) whom we knew to have vital information about key Al Qaeda members and about upcoming planned attacks. According to published reports, waterboarding was used on the three over a period of some time, and it did elicit a deal of high-value information, including news of another large-scale attack planned for the Los Angeles Library Tower.

These terrorists disclosed valuable information after being waterboarded. Several terrorist plots that could have killed countless American civilians and military were thwarted. Names of other terrorists were revealed. And yet, the terrorists are still alive and have not suffered any prolonged mental or physical harm.

Do these actions meet the definition of torture, described by the DoJ above? No, they do not. Therefore, is waterboarding, as performed by US interrogation specialists, torture? No, it is not.

If it were actual torture, do you really think that we’d see members of the media volunteer to undergo waterboarding just to see how bad it is? (What if the technique was the extraction of fingernails? Any volunteers?) If it were actual torture, do you really think tens of thousands of our military men and women would be required to undergo it in the course of their training? No.

However, waterboarding is now illegal, because President Obama has banned its use. By doing so, the President has removed a valuable weapon from our arsenal, and we are a little less safe for it.

I’ll close by reiterating Mr. Owens, lest we forget the important lesson:

As someone said elsewhere, if you want a true definition of torture, make someone choose between burning alive or plunging 80 stories to their death. If such a choice can be avoided by waterboarding a terrorist, then the only moral thing to do is to waterboard him, and it is the people who argue otherwise who are morally-stunted children.

True torture vs. torture as petulantly defined by “morally-stunted children.” You decide.

Stoutcat

2 Responses to Answer the Question: Is Waterboarding Torture?

  1. […] on the heels of my last post comes this interesting take from Legal Insurrection: “Many Democrats in Congress have pushed […]

  2. […] Holder on Waterboarding — Proving It's Not Torture While …As someone said elsewhere, if you want a true definition of torture, make someone choose between burning alive or plunging 80 stories to their death. If such a choice can be avoided by waterboarding a terrorist, then the only moral … Read more […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s