The use of water boarding by the United States Government to ferret out ‘terrorists’ reminds me of the witch hunts of 1692 in Massachusetts. One of those dark moments in American history. It is a catch 22 for the person being tortured. Tell us what we want to hear or risk drowning – does anyone win in this scenario?
Quoting from the Discovery Channel internet site on witches:
“Once someone had been accused, they were often tortured, so that they would confess to consorting with the devil and name other witches. Once they were found guilty, if they survived the torture, they were hanged, burned or crushed beneath heavy stones. Another popular method of determining if someone was a witch was drowning. If the person sank, he or she was found innocent, but by then it was too late to save them. If they floated they were deemed a witch, because they are opposed to baptism and so the water would reject them.”
So the terrorist suspect is water boarded. If they tell of their terrorist escapades then that affirms the terrorist label and they are punished accordingly. If they do not tell then they risk drowning. How is this different from the drowning of witches in the middle ages?
I put this question to some of my acquaintances in my very conservative Midwest home town. Their response reduced the argument to fear and the reality of personal attacks. And frankly, someone really did fly airplanes into those buildings on 911 – This is not a debate about whether there are such a thing as witches or terrorists – There are real, living, andgerous, and threatening terrorists. That is not the debate.
So the question was put to me, “If we had used water boarding and the strategy was successful in stopping 911, would it have been the right thing to do?”
So I put the situation back to them. I said, “Suppose there is a burglar terrorizing a community. He is a dangerous burglar. He has come in the night, breaking into homes, and stealing everything. When confronted by homeowners – he has killed them. Everyone in the community knows this truth, but they do not know if he acts alone. One night you hear a noise outside your house. You peek out the window and there is a man in your fenced yard. He is crouching and sneaking toward your house. You own a gun. What are you going to do? Do you shoot first and ask questions later? Do you call in a military strike and hope the police arrive in time? If the police catch him and he will not talk – what can they do to make him tell about his accomplices?”
There is an old story around the St. Joseph, Missouri, Police Department. It goes something like this: Back in the 1940’s young couples used to park their cars on Lover’s Lane and make out. Some bad guy would sneak up on the car and beat the boyfriend and then rape the girl. So two male Police Detectives went undercover, one dressed like a man – the other dressed like a woman – and they parked on Lover’s Lane. Some person approached their car and stuck his head in the window. The ‘female’ officer stuck his service revolver in the face of the intruder and blew his brains back from the car. This was in the day of little forensics. When asked if they got the right person the officers would simply reply, “Well, we didn’t have no more trouble on Lover’s Lane.” Case Closed.
There is another old story of Police justice. Back in the day of the ‘beat cop,’ when officers patrolled by themselves and on foot, the officers had to patrol the railway yards. The hobos, or transient derelicts of society, would come to town by rail. The ‘beat cop’ would catch them, pound them on the head with their club, put them on the next train, and tell them to stay out of our town. This was a common practice into the 1960’s. Again, was justice served? Was the objective of public safety accomplished?
Was justice served? That depends on what one defines as the objective and how one views justice. There has been no more trouble on Lover’s Lane. We have not had another 911 terrorist attack. And there are no more dangerous witches in America.
There is a difference between the middle age witch hunts and the hunt for terrorists. We absolutely have empirical evidence that terrorists exist and their purpose is to kill us.
Some would define the problem in the simple terms used by old time police tactics. I would ask this: Is the United States Government serving as the ‘beat cop’ of the world?