There were many problems with the abuses at Abu Graib. First, the Red Cross has estimated that between 70%-90% of the prisoners were not connected to the insurgency or to any terror group. Second, the pictures released created what has become an international scandal. Third, both the Geneva Convention and most people’s idea of decency were obliterated.
But let’s face it. It’s not always that simple. If the CIA had taken a person into custody who just might have information related to an impending terror attack, what are the limits?
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is believed to have helped in the planning of the 9-11 attacks. In order to try to extract information from him after he was in custody, the CIA used a technique known as water boarding in which the prisoner is repeatedly pushed under water and threatened with drowning.
Too much? What about a gun to the head? What about a series of beatings? Humiliations?
It’s not so easy to determine how far is too far when you’re talking about a guy who you know is a terrorist and who you think may have the details regarding new terrorist attacks.
If you thought there was the slightest possibility of stopping the next 9-11 attack, how far would you go?
These are probably questions that are worth asking (along with seeking a better understanding about whether or not torture is effective in extracting accurate information). What is acceptable? What do we gain through torture (in terms of intelligence) and what do we lose (in terms of our culture)?
The use of physical coercion to gain intelligence has been around since humans first began swinging sticks at one another. We need to take a hard, analytic look at these issues – before another crisis and without all the political mudslinging. We also need to make sure that politicians and the public are fully aware of the ugliness of war. The pictures coming out of Iraq have been shocking and disturbing. But let’s keep things in perspective. By most accounts, more than 15,000 civilians have been killed during this war. Hundreds of Americans have been killed. Thousands of Americans have been seriously injured and many more will suffer from a lifetime of psychological trauma.
That’s how war works. For those who send people to war to feign shock about any of this is much more offensive than anything that happened at Abu Graib.
This debate (which will have a significant impact on the way we and others perceive the progression of our culture) should be held in public, not in a royal palace or a dark cell somewhere halfway across the world.