Does bank robbery work? Most people think that’s a strange — almost absurd — question. Many respond, “Huh?” But think about it. What if the bank robber had a family relying on him or her, with children who literally didn’t have enough to eat? Doesn’t the question make sense then? Most people would respond, “But it’s still wrong!”
But if we change the question to “Does torture work?” it doesn’t seem strange at all. We don’t say “Huh?” when we hear it; we don’t mentally flinch. We are perfectly willing to debate this question, even though we know torture is wrong.
The comparisons between bank robbery and torture don’t end there. Our government and media have made the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” sound perfectly acceptable, when we all know it is simply a euphemism for torture. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley parodied this phrase when he pointed out that waterboarding is no more an enhanced interrogation technique than bank robbery is an enhanced money withdrawal technique.
It’s a useful way of looking at torture. We know it’s illegal; we know it’s immoral. So why not examine it in terms of other things we know are illegal and immoral?
Consider Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and his argument for a “torture warrant.” He points out that torture has occurred in the past and will continue to occur in the future. So in those extraordinary situations where using torture might save lives, he argues, why not let the president get a “ticking bomb torture warrant” from the chief justice of the Supreme Court?
The absurdity of this proposal becomes apparent when we substitute “bank robbery warrant” for “torture warrant.” No one would — and no one should — support such a warrant. And the occurrence of bank robberies in the past or the future is obviously irrelevant.
Furthermore, Dershowitz is completely out of touch with what occurs on the battlefield. As George W. Bush’s former General Counsel of the Navy, Alberto Mora, has pointed out, a ticking-time-bomb justification is applicable on every single day on every battlefield in every war.
But of course Dershowitz claims he opposes torture. He just wants to regulate it and thus minimize its use. Maybe we should regulate the law schools.
Time for accountability
Maybe it’s time we begin treating torture as seriously as we treat bank robbery. Maybe it’s about time we decide to prosecute those who “legalized,” conspired to commit, authorized, ordered and committed torture in our names. Maybe it’s time we take to heart Mahatma Gandhi’s response to the question, “What do you think of Western Civilization?” He said, “I think it would be a good idea.”
Aug. 1 is the eighth anniversary of the John Yoo/Jay Bybee torture memos. Tackling Torture at the Top (a committee of Women Against Military Madness) and others will commemorate that day by Fasting Against Torture for 24 hours starting at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Aug 1.
Members will also be present at the Federal Building in Minneapolis from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 2. They call for repentance and accountability for the torture that has been done in our names. Join their fast or vigil; write your senators or representatives; contact President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder; write a letter to the editor. To heal the past and to prevent officially sanctioned torture in the future, accountability is essential.
Chuck Turchick is a retired Minneapolis resident who is concerned about torture and torture accountability issues.