Frontline on Torture: An Open Letter to Congress

To the Honorable Tim Walberg:

Last night, I watched the public television show Frontline about the recent incidents of torture, and then the documentary about the 1971 break in at the FBI office. These are the things on which Americans should write Congress.

Again we follow Senator McCain on the torture issue, but we notice that the story ends in a standoff, where CIA people (Mr. McLaughlin) are arguing that the program be continued because it is useful for security, and Senator Feinstein saying “183 times!” We can work on this theoretical impasse.

The truth that torture might in the most extreme circumstances imaginable be justifiable has left an opening, or opened up a hole, into which our nation, obeying its instrument, the CIA, has fallen. We must answer the argument and the assurance that American lives were saved and that torture is therefore justified. In these cases, even of Zubayduh and Mochti, the torture was not justified.

The CIA was not certain that Mr. Mochti had information that would immediately save American lives, and they were eventually given false information, and went on a witch hunt in Montana.

The CIA argument is based on a point of prudence in foreign policy, that the most incredible sounding particulars can be the right action in certain extreme circumstances. The example is if a child were kidnapped by two, and one had one of them, and knew he knew where ones child was being held and tortured. Any means of getting the information from a guilty and uncooperative kidnapper might be justified, or be the right action. Sometimes this is formulated as the teaching that “the ends justify the means,” which I think is a Marxist formulation. Further, we care less, about torturing a torturer, and must remember that murder is still murder if one murders a murderer, and in law, till sentencing, it is all the same. At least the CIA is still arguing on the basis of the good of the nation. What of when this is no longer the case? Is it not as though evil likes to loosen our abhorrence at certain particulars, first by examples where these things may be justifiable, and then taking away the ends in light of which it seemed, well, yes, to save the world, I would commit adultery, so the commandment is not a universal prohibition. Did the law ever claim that sort of universality? We all know what it means, “Thou shall not Kill.”

This theoretical truth has left an opening into which our nation has fallen like a chasm.

These cases in foreign policy are not even close to the standard of proven guilt and certain saving of innocent lives. That much is demonstrated by the fact that no imminent plot was uncovered by torturing even either of these men.

Machiavelli is the fellow who argues for evil in the pursuit of power by appealing to the extreme instances, where almost anything is justifiable. We are supposed to be reconciled to him because he does not in the end advocate the most extreme and imprudent cruelties, but only the prudent cruelties. I spent a couple years reading these things, though of course do not understand them much better than common sense. Leo Strauss, in his Thoughts on Machiavelli, may have the best book on these things.

We are hearing the same argument regarding surveillance and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, that national security and the saving of American lives justifies absolutely anything. As we have seen, in the Media case from 1971 and elsewhere, the argument regarding national security is being routinely and dangerously abused, or cited when there is not the security issue there is said to be.

In the kidnapping example, one then finds the child who is in truth about to be harmed, and the truth is told. It may have been justified, but one is demonstrably certain. In the CIA cases, not only were they not certain, they were wrong. John McCain said “I think that’s all torture, good luck” and walked out. He is referring to the Court decision that the executive was bound to follow the Geneva convention.

The argument that these extreme things save lives ignores the truth that there are other legal and right things we could have been spending our efforts upon that would have saved even more lives, without the disastrous consequences of violating our principles as a civilized nation. There is not only the fact that that other, more ingenious ways of spending our intelligence dollar might be even more effective, but also, there is a long and a short term to security interests. I am afraid that by listening to the agencies flatter the fear of the people, we are sacrificing long term to short term, and more apparent security interests. The long term loss in the trust in our nation will in fact cost even more lives, not to mention the voluntary cooperation we might have gained had the interrogation stopped with the Islamo-sympathetic method of Al Soufan. In the Frontline show, Mr. Soufan was an Islamic interrogator who knew the Koran, and may have been able to persuade even Zubayed and Mochti, and trick them where they could not persuade them. It is when they brought in the psychologists, one will notice, that things became ugly.

Psychology and education in general must remain free despite the agencies wish to use these things too for “security.”

Mankind, throughout the history of political thinking, always thought popular government was impossible, and the American democratic republic proved them wrong. They always thought a nation had to have a state religion, and we proved them wrong. Nations throughout history have mostly been governed despotically, and tyranny always argues that its terrible actions are justified by being necessary. Federalist 1 says we are going to do something different. The most gruesome things we study in history all happened because some tyrant thought that only fools act for anything except power. Until the Bush administration, we had for the most part been proving them wrong. We are confirmed in having supported John McCain in that important primary election, and point out that these things would not have occurred had he won. Senator McCain might even now show us the way out, in what must become our penance for yet another national sin, if we would follow him.

I have been told by an assistant to my representative that Congressional oversight of the agencies has never been done. He is apparently too young to remember the Church committee. But look what happened to Mr. Church regarding his career! And Mr. Carson (who, along with Rand Paul, we now lean toward supporting) thinks that if one is rich, it is a proof that they are wise, like Socrates and Jesus (not), as rich as Solomon (not).

Was anyone in the FBI ever held accountable for the illegal actions revealed by the Media break in? Telling St. Martin that he had 34 days to do something, not to mention the other things they did? And were we Michiganians not proud of our Senator Phil Hart, who said his kids had been telling him these things about his government, but he did not believe them? No one, not the one who ordered the action, is ever held accountable, and this is what must change, in the very interests of national security, and in both the long and short term. A free America governed by our 545 or so sovereign office holders, the President, Congress and the Supreme Court together, is probably unconquerable, if we stay within our bounds. A post-constitutional America, governed by the Agencies, who have the information, the internet, the spying, the arms, the lawyers, the arguments and the long term offices, well, Vegas might not give you even money on that one!

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