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National Security with a License to Kill, or Torture

In The Post 9/11 Action Hero, I discussed the new generation of Hollywood spy, and his ability to act decisively without moral or ethical restraints. Of course, by “act decisively” I mean torturing or killing our enemies.

Unfortunately, many real world politicians argue for giving America the ability to act without oversight, committing acts to keep us safe we will never know. These black operations will be one of two things: murder or torture. This forces me to ask: do we want to give federal agents this much power? Do we really want to relinquish oversight of our nation’s intelligence agencies to make us safer?

What happened in August of 1996 in Atlanta should dissuade anyone from wanting to give the Federal government too much power. Thirteen years ago, a backpack filled with three pipe bombs detonated in Centennial Park, the center of downtown Atlanta and the Olympics festivities. It killed two people and wounded 111. Fortunately, Richard Jewell discovered the backpack before it detonated and began evacuating the park. His quick thinking saved countless lives.
The F.B.I quickly determined that the Richard Jewell, hero of Atlanta, was perfectly placed to benefit from his actions. So perfect, they started investigating him. The F.B.I. leaked his name to news authorities as their primary suspect.
Yet, he did not do it. The Justice Department eventually arrested and charged Eric Robert Rudolph, a serial bomber linked to attacks on numerous abortion clinics and a lesbian night club in the southern states, of the Centennial Park bombing. Rudolph eventually plead guilty to all four bombings. Richard Jewell received an apology and a settlement for several libel suits.
Would the CIA have tortured Richard Jewell to find the locations of more bombs? Would Jewell have confessed if water boarded? Would they have just killed him to stop him from attacking again?

These organizations desire non-legal resolution of terrorism because it requires less evidence. Less evidence means greater chance of mistakes; exactly what happened in Atlanta in 1996.

Our judicial system developed rights for a reason. Police do a fantastic job of keeping us safe; they still need DAs and Internal Affairs to provide checks and balances. The CIA and FBI keep us safe, but they need checks and balances as well. Our national security system needs checks and balances, and Congress, the President and the American people must never forget that.

ten comments

The torture, yes, I get that. What do you mean by authorizing murder? Are you talking about black op teams that just go in and kill “bad guys” while they sleep, so to speak? And are you arguing against teams capable of such actions or the action itself? I think having teams capable of extracting high risk, high value targets from places they consider safe to be extremely valuable, provided these targets are then brought to justice and tried for their crimes or interrogated — not tortured — for more information about their organizations and networks.

Now here’s a sad fact. I discussed to torture with a group of Christian individuals of various ages, economic standings, and ethnicities. There were nearly two dozen people present. Of those two dozen, everyone of them believed torture an acceptable means of gaining information from enemy combatants. Almost all thought it was okay if they knew it would yield no information whatsoever. This point I had to clarify because I was baffled. EVEN IF YOU KNEW YOU’D OBTAIN NO USEFUL INFORMATION? There was no change in sentiment. They said it was okay so long as they were terrorists.

So I changed the direction of the conversation. Toward war in general, mindful of the topic of torture. We discussed America’s role in wars. About Iraq we discussed justification for going. About Vietnam we discussed whether or not it stemmed communism. About WWII we discussed whether the torture of the Jewish people and dissidents was ethical. And all agreed it was not. Mostly because those who died were no combatants; innocents.

Then we discussed the American Revolution and the evolution toward a new type of warfare. We discussed how the militia would outsmart the English by attacking from hidden positions, effectually snipering British officers to leave the battlefield in chaos. We also discussed how the British executed supporters of the revolution. Perhaps the most notable being Nathan Hale saying “I regret that I have but one life to give to my country,” before he was hung.

A strange thing occurred. All present thought this heroic. The death of a dissent and traitor to his country. This is a man who supported the death of British soldiers at the hands of what can effectually be viewed as terrorists.

Yet enemy combatants are given no such concern. After all, the belief is that all current enemy combatants are terrorists who bomb schools and are as such, evil.

It’s it interesting how history and the way it is told affect how we perceive things? How will they perceive our actions in a hundred and thirty years?

I guess it depends on who’s writing the stories…

@ Will – originally the article focused on shoot on sight authorization, but it didn’t ft as well as torture did with the Richard Jewell situation. We’ll have to deal with it more in the future, but I’d say I side on making it harder for the CIA to get authorization to kill, rather than easier.

@ Padge – A lot to digest, but two main themes emerge: 1) in politics and in FP, people tend to be hypocritical, and unable to see beyond their own biases and self interests. 2) Jesus was non-violent and christianity is a religion of non-violence, and yet many (most?)christians totally ignore this. We’ll be dealing with this on Mon.

Religion and politics are two subjects that are dangerous to mix. We had to make an entire amendment to sidestep that headache.

@Will- Yes teams designed to extract high value targets are necessary and quite useful. But, extracting them to Egypt is not the right answer. And killing them on sight is not the right answer.

@MattyP- Fantastic story similar to many arguments I have had. I have come to believe that torture is unacceptable in any situation. Ethically, its the only right answer, but practically it is hard to swallow.

Just curious, would you agree or disagree with the argument that some people just need to be killed?

Yes, and no. If someone is shooting at you, it is hard to argue a police officer or soldier should not fire back, so yes.

But I personally don’t advocate the death penalty, or needless killing. And I view the goal of police officers and armies is to limit the number of casualties.

Will, that’s why I could never serve on a jury. It is beyond me to determine whether a person deserves to die for the evils they commit. To kill or be killed is easy. But to kill for justice or revenge. That’s a moral question I’d rather not be posed. But I support the right for the wronged to seek justice and a jury of peers to determine what is just.

@ Will- Absolutely some people need to be killed in a war zone. When my battalion deployed, when any battalion deploys, that is a huge part of their job and role. However, if we can limit the killing, by arresting them or discouraging them instead, than we can make huge strides.

Often that role of distinguishing targets is the most important factor, the thinking part. In Iraq, for a while you had two groups: Al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni Insurgents. Well, in many cases the AQ were not going to give up, they just needed to be taken out with violence. But, if you lump the Sunni Insurgents in with them then you make a huge mistake. Around 2007, the surge showed that many of those insurgents could be persuaded to stop fighting. So, in a long way, yes some people do just need to be killed, but a surprising number do not.

I totally agree that most do not need to be but like you said, AQI and some others just need to be because there is simply will not reason with you. In those rare situations I’d say put a bullet or two in them and don’t bother bringing them back. That being said, once anyone, I don’t care who they are, has been taken into custody, I 100% do not advocate torture.