and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November #3

If government can torture them, it can torture you
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, November 19, 2009

So here we are, in the United States of America, having a debate about whether our government is allowed to torture people or not.

Apparently unwilling to answer a simple question with the obvious answer, which is that we're not, some people attempt to confuse the issue by insisting that something called "waterboarding" by which a prisoner is made to feel as if he's drowning isn't torture.

I'll go along with threatening arachnophobes with spiders and even playing "Russian roulette" with a uncooperative prisoner, in an emergency; but I really think that our American government isn't allowed to actually touch someone's person except to get the handcuffs on and direct him to a prison cell and maybe eventually execute him.

Policemen do what's necessary to interfere with a crime, and if the criminal points a gun at them, they can shoot to kill. And I don't understand why some people have a problem with this.

But once the culprit is captured, the police are not allowed to beat him at the station. Agree?

Why would it be different at the federal level? If terrorists get killed while being apprehended, that's fine with me; but once they are prisoners, they are not beaten. In my opinion, they are not given prayer mats, the Quran or special diets, either but they are not tortured. I also think they have to go to trial within a reasonable time, according to our Constitution. I don't understand why so many have been held prisoner, unconvicted, for so long.

So hurrah for President Obama for finally taking the 9/11 terrorists to trial.

Now there's a debate about whether they should be tried by the military or civilian courts. What am I missing here? If a gang had robbed the World Trade Center, its members would be tried as criminals in a New York courthouse. Destroying the World Trade Center and killing thousands of Americans was an act of war: The military should be in charge of the trial.

During that trial, the military must indeed take on the torture issue in order to determine if confessions were freely given and whether the prisoner is really guilty.

If guilty, the death penalty seems fair. I used to support Amnesty International until it equated United States support for executing convicted murderers with the treatment of possibly innocent people in Third World political prisons.

Both local police and the government may sometimes need vital information that would save lives, time being of the essence. Apologists for beating prisoners ask us how we would feel about using torture if it were our loved ones who were in danger. To which I respond:  How would you feel if it were your loved one who was being beaten and tortured?

What the government can do to an accused criminal or terrorist, it can do to you, who might be innocent.

Perhaps the key phrase is "might be innocent." There may be times when guilt is already known, when someone is caught in the act of preparing the attack about which information is needed. I like the "solution" I've heard from legal scholar Alan Dershowitz: If torture might save lives, do it openly, with approval by the president or a Supreme Court justice; or use it knowing it is not officially allowed by the United States of America, and be willing yourself to take the consequences of violating American standards.

This latter point is the current theme of the popular TV drama "24." Anti-terrorist agent Jack Bauer does what he thinks is necessary to save innocent lives, and we viewers love him for it, while booing the government that wants to put him on trial for doing what he "has to do to save innocent lives."

But I recall the segment when Jack was absent and the people in charge of counter-terrorism decided to torture Audrey on suspicion that she was a spy. Audrey was not only Jack's girlfriend, she was the daughter of the secretary of defense!

I allow a certain suspension of reality when I watch TV, but that was an insult to my intelligence, which of course I forgave in order to watch a few more seasons in which the bad guys "got theirs" and the politicians who enabled them or didn't have the courage to "do what's necessary" were humiliated by Jack's definitive actions.

It can be cathartic to fantasize about hurting someone who has or will hurt innocent people; many of us cheer during movies, television shows and action novels when the bad guys "get theirs." There's a difference between enthusiastic takedowns of bad guys, though, and torturing them when they are helpless in a soundproof cell.

I have no patience with apologists for evil, which includes people who deny that evil exists. I don't care if evildoers had a tough childhood, follow or misinterpret their religion, or were born psychopaths. I don't really care if they are tortured, either, as long as,  a) they are proven guilty and, b) they're not being tortured by or at the behest of my American government in violation of its Constitution, which protects us all from government power.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.