Friday, January 7

Considering the Memos (Part 3 the final)

Torture. Abuse of Prisoners. Necessities of War. Basic human decency. Love thy neighbor. Protect your family.

These are the real issues which face us. They form a subtext behind the discussions of the memos, which alas for Mr Gonzales will not be cleared up prior, after, or during his hearing. Members of his panel will not come to any consensus on their stand on these issues at hand prior or during the confirmation hearing. Many of the less well intentioned (putting it as kindly as I may) will just use the opportunity for partisan attack and grandstanding.

Putting aside the political partisan rivalry, it behooves us to consider more closely how we feel about what methods we might use to extract information from prisoners in time of war. Mr Wretchard at Belmont Club (here) has a essay today on some of the issues that face us. It is clear that during and after the Afghan campaign, the methods in place to interrogate prisoners were both insufficient and ineffective. In the following months, the pendulum of policies have swung too far in both directions. Can we lay the blame on our Administration for not setting policy correctly? That route is too easy. When asked, what can we do in these situations under current codes? It seems that given the answer in the memos, too few people then tried to set down policy of what we should therefore do. Or if they did, alas those documents are not up for public scrutiny. Hindsight we too often forget (and too often intentionally for partisan reasons) is always 20/20. And the ethical decisions made in the heat of the moment are too often torn from context and abused by partisan players.

What are we trying to accomplish with torture. The situation is as follows. We accumulate prisoners many of whom we strongly suspect have information which will save the lives of American soldiers (or civilians in the case of prisoners who may have information of future terrorist attacks on US soil). They are not volunteering this information just because they have been caught. This information is time critical. That is to say, if we do not extract it from the prisoner in a timely fashion, the recovered information is no longer useful. In this conflict the Geneva Convention is of no help for the prisoners with few exceptions are not covered by it. For the GC clearly states what is expected of combatants and the insurgents are not playing by those guidelines.

So it seems to me Congress (or whatever body pens the US Military Codes) must revisit the guidelines of what we as a people find acceptable for our protection and what we do not. In penning those guidelines it is probably just as useful considering the morality of what we ask of our soldiers and intelligence operatives as it is the actual treatment of the captives. We might ask our medical community what they feel might be ethical and efficacious in achieving our goals. The cost of doing these things must be weighed against the cost of not doing them. It is clear that the position taken by many on the left of never condoning any methods besides polite questioning will be paid in the blood of American lives. But that decision isn't just for the left to make. Our elected representatives must sit down, weigh these issues, debate, and compromise and make their decision.

Abuse of prisoners, that is mistreatment not as part of a programme with the intent to extract information, is clearly unethical and should be punished. But as far as the memos and Mr Gonzales there is no indication that any position other than that was espoused.