We need to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our country. Torture may not be the perfect answer, but it has worked in the past, and you cannot discount the results. Our safety and security are all that matters. The end justifies the means, right?
SERE stands for Survival Escape Resistance and Evasion. It is a mandatory school for war-fighting personnel. I attended this school very early in my career, and honestly I don’t remember a lot of what was covered there. One thing I do remember is the code of conduct. The code of conduct was for me, as a member of the Armed Forces, not my captors. Another key takeaway was that we are all capable of breaking. SERE schools exposes you to some of the situations you can (and should) expect to face in the event you are captured. When I say exposure, I mean you leave with the same understanding that hitting a bucket golf balls on the driving range produces about a life on the PGA tour. It is a glimpse, a sliver, nothing more. I attended the course in 97, many years before the atrocities that can be found on YouTube or extremist channels were considered “mainstream”, and still left with the understanding that I should expect no quarter, from anyone, should I be captured.
Torture does work, depending on your definition of “work”.
If you define “working” as the ability to take an individual to their breaking point, and beyond, then yes, it works just fine. If you define “working” as eliciting critical, accurate, and truthful information, then you have a problem. Torture can, and will make people talk. What they say, and the validity of their statements, are questionable. I have no doubt that there are examples of torture providing critical information, and equally no doubt there are examples of innocent people being tortured, with no valuable information to offer. There will be those that say it works, and those that say it does not. One side will likely never change the opinion of the other, and the attempt to do so is largely futile. Whether or not it works, is not the point.
Disagreeing with torture does not make you weak. It does not make you unpatriotic. It does not mean you are not committed to fighting to protect our country. It means you believe in the moral values of what this country stands for. Could it potentially make it more difficult to fight our enemies, without the potential information that could be gained? Yes, theoretically, I suppose it could. Also, not the point.
No discussion or argument on torture should be framed around the actions of our enemy. I often hear the line of reasoning that we need to treat our enemy in the manner which we would expect to be treated. That too, is false. Whether we torture, or not, their actions, and their motivations against us are set in stone. Our decision could potentially be used as propaganda for them, but do not fall into the trap of thinking it will dictate their actions. These are people who light human beings on fire while in cages, conduct mass drownings, behead men and women, and recruit children for suicide bombing missions.
Take a moment before reading any further and ask yourself, define for yourself, what separates us from the enemy we face? I can tell you from first-hand experience, it is not dedication, sacrifice, depth of belief, courage, or commitment. I have seen all of those things in our enemy, they are not unique.
My answer, Honor.
There is a difference between a man who fights with honor, and one that does not. Between a man who respects life, and the man that attaches explosive devices to children. Honor requires us to take the more difficult, yet righteous path, even in the face of easier, and unethical choices. It is the difference between fighting for a cause and being blinded by one.
If you go to the beach and draw a line in the sand, it will constantly be erased by the sea. Each time you redraw the line, the start and end point move slightly. It is hard to notice; the movements may be microscopic and incremental. Eventually, you lose your reference point, and the line ends up in a completely different location. What we stand for as a nation can be moved in exactly the same way. Our position cannot change with the tide, or administrations. Torture is not about pain, suffering, or war. Torture, and the moral implications that come with it, are about what we want to see staring back at us in the mirror. It is not a flexible position, we need to be defined in who we are, and what we stand for. The line cannot move. We need to maintain our honor, even if that increases the burden required to protect it.
It is very easy to get blinded by patriotism, bald eagles, and a flurry of Red, White, and Blue. My concern is that the flag waving will one day turn into someone trying to get attention while screaming for help, and the eagles will turn into vultures, circling the garbage dump that remains from something that was once great. Whether or not that happens is not up to our enemy, it is up to us.