Morality Be Damned…

Ferguson’s Out. Torture Is In.

Senator Feinstein being interviewed about the Senate’s summary report regarding the CIA’s report on torture

CNN has held me captive this week.  I previously reported my observation that CNN only does one story per week.  It was fortuitous that the report on alleged torture perpetrated by the CIA came to play this week for the Ferguson story of the previous week was losing its luster.  I was fascinated and appalled as Senator Feinstein delivered a summary of the senate committee’s report.  Predictably, her words were barely spoken when a barrage of rebuttals were fired.  If our government could function that efficiently when in session, they might actually be able to accomplish some things.  Yes, self-defense is a powerful motivator.  As one of my friends said, “Turning up the heat increases the Brownian movement.”

The naysayers have insisted that “enhanced interrogation” is not torture; however if such interrogations are enhanced by eliciting pain, it is torture.  Regardless of the term used, the definition of torture from Webster’s dictionary is “to inflict pain.”  It is generally accepted that this may involve either physical or emotional pain or both.  It certainly appears that the techniques used on these prisoners were designed to elicit pain; consequently, I will dispense with the semantic gymnastics and refer to the procedures in question as torture.  This, in spite of the fact that some of our leaders have insisted that we do not use torture.

The parade of experts, supporters, and critics of enhanced interrogation or EIT (the acronym makes it seem less onerous) has continued until today when it appears the budget battle in congress may be the next “breaking news.”  The debate included such topics as the program’s effectiveness, its legality, the effects of making the report public, and who, if anyone should be held responsible.

Our former Vice President’s erudite statement was that the report was “a lot of crap.”  When asked if he thought the end justified the means he replied without hesitation, “absolutely.”  CIA Chief Brennan described some of the techniques used as “abhorrent” but characterized them as mistakes rather than as criminal in nature.  His defense of his organization was basically that they were simply following orders.

Nuremberg Trials

Were he old like me, he would have recalled that this defense was rejected during the Nazi trials at Nuremberg following World War II or that the Uniform Code of Military Justice allows members to refuse to follow unlawful orders .  But the CIA chief vigorously defended his staff as hardworking dedicated patriots whose vigorous interrogations had saved thousands of lives.  This of course was disputed in Feinstein’s report for she contended that their activities provided no “actionable” intelligence.


The horror of that fateful morning will be forever etched in our memories.  Seeing those planes crash into the World Trade Center and actually witnessing people leap in desperation from those windows was sickening.  In no way do I wish to minimize the fear that another attack might have been imminent, or the pressure the intelligence community must have felt to learn more about the plans of the terrorists. In spite of the hectic environment, they did not lose sight of the CYA tenet, which is always prominent in bureaucratic thinking.  They looked for a friendly judge to give legal cover, and decided to keep the operations secret (in the name of national security of course).  In order to keep their hands relatively clean, and to bypass any squeamishness, they decided to outsource the torture.  They ponied up a few million dollars and contracted with Sadists Inc. to do the dirty work.

The focus on the effectiveness of torture to secure information seemed to imply that if it worked it was justified.  I was pleased to note that later in the week there was more emphasis on the morality of torture, or as it should be stated the immorality of torture.

The History of Morality

When I researched the subject of morality, I found that although there is a great deal of variation amongst various cultures regarding codes of behavior, almost all prohibit harming others.  Consequently; one must consider torture to be the antithesis of morality.  This raises an age old question as to whether the good cancels the bad, or are moral codes absolute.  I have always felt that morality is in service of social expediency; although it appears that torture, though common, is rarely condoned by a society. Early in our history, we humans found our chances of survival were greatly enhanced by banding together. In order to be able to function as a cohesive unit, it was necessary to find a way to relate to each other with a minimum of animosity.  If, for example, you were attacking a Wooly mammoth with a spear, you certainly would not want the guy who had your back to be pissed off at you. Devising some rules for maintaining relationships are still important. Codes of conduct have been further developed through the years, and provide a veneer of civility over our more basic instincts. These standards can  be suspended when a culture sees fit, but even in war, where the most harm is done to the most people, there are rules prohibiting torture. These are the same international laws in which we helped to codify. Those who were involved in the torture programs insist they have violated no laws, but admit they are fearful they could be charged with war crimes should they leave the United States for any reason.

A Win for Liberal Arts Education

As the week progressed I was pleased to see the subject of our moral values come to the fore, and I hope this crisis may lead to further explorations of the subject. Recently, I witnessed  another interview by an educator of some repute, who was touting the advantages of an education in science, engineering, math, or failing that, learning a trade.  He decried a liberal arts education as worthless in these times because one could make much more money as a plumber than as an historian.  I take exception to that for I feel that in these times especially we are in need of more historians, philosophers, linguists, economists, poets, sociologists, anthropologists, theologians and creative artists of all kinds.  For should we become simply technocrats, we shall lose our humanity.

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