Early in the War on Terror initiated by the Bush administration after the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush signed documents prepared by his legal advisors authorizing aggressive measures in prisoner interrogations, including practices that some consider to be torture, such as “waterboarding.” If you don’t know what waterboarding is, or have never seen it, you might be interested in a 5-minute video showing a journalist who volunteered to be waterboarded. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LPubUCJv58.
Some people believe that the United States is morally bound to avoid questionable tactics such as waterboarding. If we are to be the leader of the world economically and militarily, it is incumbent upon us to be the moral leader as well. After all, how can we criticize other nations for torturing prisoners if we engage in torture ourselves? We have to be “The Good Guys,” setting an example of correct behavior that the rest of the world can follow.
On the other hand, some people believe that in a war where the other side follows no such rules – sending impressionable (some would say brainwashed) teenagers wrapped with explosives into crowded markets to blow themselves up, along with innocent shoppers whose only crime is buying food at the wrong place at the wrong time – we cannot afford to limit ourselves to humane interrogation tactics that might fail to stop a terrorist attack. Americans generally use the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe tactics that most people, like U.S. Sen. John McCain (who was himself subjected to torture in North Vietnamese POW camps) consider torture and unacceptable.
President Trump is convinced torture works and should be considered a valid tool of American foreign policy. His choices to lead the Defense Department and CIA both disagree and are outspokenly against torture.
A commonly cited example is the hypothetical “ticking time bomb:” if we had good information that a terrorist group had obtained a nuclear weapon and was going to explode it in Washington D.C. within 24 hours, would we be justified in torturing a prisoner we believed had information about the attack? A pretty good Wikipedia article is at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ticking_time_bomb_scenario. Notice that I’ve included a link to an article below that attempts to refute the validity of the Ticking Time Bomb argument.
Some say that torture does not result in reliable information anyway, because the person being tortured will say anything just to make the torture stop. In response, others insist that the interrogators know that will happen, that some information is better than none, and that prisoners are under too much stress to make up false stories.
What is your opinion? Should the U.S. have a firm unbreakable policy that we will never torture prisoners? Or should we have a policy that allows torture?
One thing I’ll try to focus on throughout the semester is to help you learn not to trust “conventional wisdom” or “common sense” too much. That kind of thoughtless trust comes into play a lot in political debates. Please don’t simply say “I believe torture works; therefore we should retain it.” As they say in court: “I don’t care what you believe. I care what you can prove.” We have far, far too many people in America and the world accepting arguments solely because those arguments fit a partisan preference or a political narrative. If you support or oppose torture you MUST do so on the basis of evidence – not because of a baseless “belief.” This kind of reasoning applies, of course, not simply to torture but to every issue we’ll deal with in this class.
For a little more information, you might start by checking out the links I’ve provided. (And remember not to make any assumptions about my personal opinions based on anything I post.) Or you may look for other outside information. Be sure that, as with anything you do in any class or in life, you cite anything you use from an outside source.
Remember you need to make your “Initial Post” of at least 250 words and you need to complete at least two responses (the “Final Posts”) of at least 200 words each to classmates by the dates shown in the course schedule.
Remember there is one date for your Initial Post and a later date for your Final Posts.