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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 5, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Charles Krauthammer on torture

Nation of laws does not excuse torture

I’m disgusted that we even have to debate the moral and legal efficacy of torture, but apparently, sadly, we do.

In his column “Sometimes you do what you have to do — even torture” [Opinion, May 3], Charles Krauthammer summarizes the tortured moral logic coming out of the torture apologist camp. Basically, the “impermissible evil” of torturing prisoners for information is somehow morally excusable as long the inflicters of extreme pain, fear and discomfort on prisoners can claim one of two scenarios: either the “weapons of mass destruction/ticking time-bomb” plot, or the “I only tortured to saves lives” excuse.

The first scenario is dramatically titillating, but because this drama hasn’t happened and is unlikely to occur outside of a Hollywood TV studio, it’s a throwaway argument.

On the other hand, Krauthammer’s second torturer’s defense sounds likely and even high-minded, but isn’t it exactly the same pretext claimed by subhuman masochists in every authoritarian regime to inflict unspeakable horrors, often upon the innocent as well as the guilty? Every despot rationalizes a fear of some preventable evil, whether real or imagined, to justify his torture chambers. It is the same ends-justify-the means moral relativism that any rogue cop could use to beat a confession out any suspect. Do we let corrupt regimes or police get away with this defense?

Despite Krauthammer’s sophisticated moral calculations, most of us know that torture is an innately immoral act. But let’s not let Krauthammer’s rhetorical exercise obscure for us the cold, hard reality that torture is a crime. It is a crime against humanity, it is a crime according to international law, it is a crime under our laws, and it violates the most basic protections of our Constitution.

If we torture and we excuse those who torture, quite simply, we are no longer a nation of laws, and we are no longer a democracy where individuals are protected and human rights are sacred.

— J. Anthony Salmon, Burien

Sacrificing moral principles weakens U.S.

Isn’t it interesting that Charles Krauthammer would cite George Tenet as his source for the fairly compelling evidence that torture “works”?

Is Krauthammer forgetting that this is the same Tenet responsible for the now infamous “slam dunk” remark regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? And, according to several credible sources, all of the important information provided by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was obtained before waterboarding.

It stands to reason that what one person considers objective evidence may be considered subjective by another. Justifying torture under “special circumstances” opens a Pandora’s box as to the definition of what exactly defines those circumstances and makes the Geneva Conventions meaningless.

If Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and other Democrats were briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques and said nothing, then they shoulder blame along with Republicans. There is no doubt in my mind that the Republican majority put the then-minority Democrats in a position of being publicly lambasted for being weak on terror if they did not support the majority regarding these techniques.

However, when our political leaders sacrifice their moral principles in the name of their political futures, it is our country and our political system that is made weaker.

— Judy Neldamm, Duvall

Comments | More in George W. Bush, Guantanamo Bay detention center, torture

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