I wonder what torture-memo attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee are thinking regarding the report of a U.S. sailor who was apparently taken captive by the Taliban yesterday. Time will tell whether the sailor who was killed with him was actually the lucky one.
Would the Taliban torture the guy? It wouldn’t surprise anyone, but one thing is certain: the U.S. government unfortunately has no moral standing whatsoever to demand proper treatment of the soldier, given its own position and its own track record regarding torture and abuse.
Suppose, for example, the Taliban decides to waterboard that sailor 183 times. From what people say, being waterboarding even once would be a horrifying experience, much less 183 times.
How would U.S. officials respond if the Taliban began doing that to that American sailor? Could they object to and condemn the Taliban’s repeated waterboarding of him?
Well, they could but likely much of the world would just shake their heads in dismay over such arrogance and audaciousness. After all, don’t forget that that’s the number of times that U.S. personnel waterboarded accused terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
How would U.S. officials, with straight faces, claim to have moral standing to object to the waterboarding of a U.S. sailor 183 times when they continue to defend their own waterboarding activities?
Indeed, how could U.S. officials even claim that the Taliban was torturing the sailor through repeated waterboarding when they’ve denied that waterboarding even constitutes torture?
Or consider all the things that were done by U.S. forces to people held captive at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. You’ll recall that Abu Ghraib was the infamous prison at which Saddam Hussein tortured Iraqis. It’s also the prison at which U.S. military personnel and CIA agents tortured, sexually abused, raped, beat, and even executed Iraqis. And don’t forget: None of the victims at Abu Ghraib had ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. All them, along with their government, were entirely innocent of the 9/11 attacks.
Or consider the things that U.S. personnel have done to prisoners held at the U.S. military’s prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Or the things that have been done at all those secret CIA prisons around the world.
What moral standing would the U.S. government have in calling on the Taliban to treat that U.S. sailor in a proper manner? Answer: None.
Of course, torture should be condemned simply as a matter of morality. It’s wrong, and that’s all there is to it. But secondarily is the utilitarian argument: It doesn’t work and ends up producing unreliable information. It also opens the door to the torture, abuse, and mistreatment of U.S. servicemen when they’re taken captive, something that that U.S. sailor might now discover.