“Really!?!? We’re investigating whether the CIA told the 9/11 mastermind they were going to kill his kids? Liberals are wimps.” –Twitter post of my most conservative friend (who can out himself in the comments if he likes).
It is easy to debate with true believers, laugh at conspiracy nuts, and buy feminine hygiene products for bleeding hearts. When somebody dances on the edge of the spectrum, pushing him over the edge to Wingnut Chasm isn’t even sport. The real challenge is stepping out on the edge for a two-step with him.
That is, as I tend to hang out with all three of the above categories, I find myself either debating, laughing, or buying Vagisil all the time. There are times like this, however, that I find myself stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that I rarely do. I’m going to agree with my conservative friend.
So, the CIA (hi, guys!) and Bush administration is going to catch a lot of hell. First it was the waterboarding thing. Then it was the threatening with guns and drills thing (very Bond Villain, gentlemen…). Now it’s threatening to kill the children of suspected terrorists. Woah, that does sound horrible doesn’t it? Threatening the lives of mere children just to get information from someone? Only someone horrible would do that.
And for the most part, that is true. I received the breaking news alert on my iPhone when I left the gym this afternoon. Sweating and sitting in my hot car, I actually had a visceral reaction as I imagined the technique. It turned my stomach to imagine having information that somebody else wanted but I couldn’t give up and then be told if I didn’t talk, someone would kill my sons. It would take someone inhuman and inhumane to use such a tactic. I gave it a couple of hours and then forced myself to think about it another way. Here’s the scenario I imagined:
It’s 6pm on a Friday night and I’m standing over a man I’ve never met before. He’s tied up, sweating, and smiling at me. There is a moral part of me screaming as I stand above him. I do not have it in me to kill. I probably don’t have the will to beat the man. What’s more, if I do either of the violent options, I might go to prison. But I have a waterboarding kit, a Glock 9mm, and a Black and Decker power drill. I also know the names of the man’s children. I can choose to use any of the above to get the information I want.
The information I want: The location of my children who are scheduled to be killed at midnight.
Okay. That does sound a little wingnutty, but I don’t have a problem thinking of it that way. Because, as much as I think Americans could do a much better job of understanding other cultures and political systems, I think our government should have a right to protect its people like we would our children. There is a moral line when interrogating people and that line is only crossed when you inflict physical harm.
If it stopped there, this would be an easy debate. The problem is, we have to be able to trust the people we give the power to conduct these interrogations to use a great deal of discretion. That is to say, it’s perfectly fine for me threaten the kids of a kidnapper who I know had my kids locked in a closet somewhere. It’s not fine for me to waterboard some guy who looked at my kids funny on the playground. Further, I shouldn’t be able to hire a thug to go out and do my wet work for me.
Ah, yes. The whole Blackwater thing. While it doesn’t speak necessarily to interrogations, the other building controversy was the CIA’s reported use of a private security firm to hunt and kill terrorist leaders. Like the “security” Blackwater provided in Iraq or post-Katrina New Orleans, giving mercenaries carte blanche to do what our government cannot is less than unseemly. It almost sounds illegal.
That is all a long way of saying Americans should come to grips with the realities of war–and not the kind of Crusade we’ve been fighting for most of this decade, but the kind of war where people might actually want and have the ability to do harm to Americans. There are times protecting American soil is going to get ugly and we need to understand people in our government will have to do some ugly things. Rather than spending precious hand-wringing time worrying about how they get the job done, we should be paying more attention to making sure it’s done by the right people, for the right reasons, to the right people, and to as few people as possible.