Torture

Updated: June 18, 2015

Dianne Feinstein made a good point during her interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN: There is no good time to bring up the topic of torture. However, it was something that needed to be addressed.

I want to stress that the torture report conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee was not designed to damage the Republicans or punish the CIA operatives that carried out these acts, as some people have argued. Rather, this investigation was conducted to demonstrate America’s willingness to confront its past and show that we as a nation are not afraid to admit our mistakes.

What this report showed is that yes, we did in fact torture terror suspects in the wake of 9/11, and mistakes were made in how we conducted our “enhanced interrogation” program. But that’s not really the heart of the debate here. The question now facing the United States is “Was this justified?” I’m here to argue in the affirmative. I realize that this is not a popular opinion, but that has not always been the case. Many Americans have forgotten what the mood was like in the initial months and years following the attacks.

I have a creeping suspicion that what I write here may come back to haunt me later in my professional career, but I will not allow popular opinion to silence my views. Just as Murrow stood up to McCarthy when the rest of the nation dared not speak a word for fear of being labeled a communist, I am here to give voice to those who share my view but are too afraid to speak for fear of being labeled un-American.

The first thing to remember is we are not fighting enemy combatants, we’re fighting terrorists. If we were taking about members of a foreign country’s military then of course torture would not be justified. But the men and women in question do not give a damn about the Geneva Conventions. They fly no country’s flag, they don no uniform, and they kill indiscriminately. I realize that 9/11 was 13 years ago, but isn’t our slogan Never Forget? We should not adopt a softer stance on terrorism simply because no one has flown planes into New York skyscrapers recently.

Let me take a moment to address the arguments that some of my critics would likely bring up. Yes, the investigation into these torture cases showed that we did not obtain enough information from the suspects to prevent any one terrorist attack. But let me ask you this: If there was even the slightest chance of preventing another 9/11 at the hands of amoral psychopaths, isn’t it our sworn duty to protect the lives of the many at the expense of the few by any means necessary? It’s not an easy question to answer, but I stand resolute in saying yes. In the words of Major General Larry K. Arnold in the midst of the 9/11 attacks: “We will take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.”

The second issue is the men who were tortured by the CIA were “suspects” i.e. they were never charged with anything. I admit that this does look bad to the international community, but what so many people fail to realize is that these men are not American citizens, and therefore not protected by the U.S. Constitution (in this case the amendments outlawing cruel and unusual punishment and the right to due process.) And as far as I’m concerned, the few Americans who were alledgedly tortured by the government for acts of terrorism, most prominently Jose Padilla, waved their citizenship rights as soon as they conspired to kill masses of innocent people outside of a war zone.But what about the Geneva Conventions I mentioned earlier? Didn’t the United States violate them just like the terrorists did? Yes. Yes we did.

Torture is strictly outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, but again, these men and women waived their right to the protection of international law the second they decided to commit atrocious war crimes. While it’s true that many people believe that two wrongs don’t make a right, you would be childish to think that such black and white morality applies in extraordinary circumstances such as these. If playing dirty is what it takes to keep this country safe, then I see no problem in leveling the playing field. Doing so does not make us as bad as the terrorists because it is terrorists that we are targeting, not helpless innocents. Normally I don’t agree with the notion that peace can be obtained with both the olive branch and the arrow, but these radical groups have left us no alternative.

Unlike most journalism, topics like this are purely subjective, not objective. So my purpose here was not to inform, but to persuade. I realize that I won’t win over everyone with this article, but I wrote this piece to show that everyone has the right to voice their opinion, no matter how unpopular it may be. If we all speak up for our views, no matter how guarded, we may find that many others share the same beliefs. Once that happens, we can have a proper dialogue about the merits of our actions as opposed to keeping silent for fear of being condemned.

I’m reminded of a political comic I read awhile back that depicted a mushroom cloud towering over the National Mall. The speech bubble in the background read: “For the last time, if you don’t tell us where the bomb is, we’ll be forced to get you a lawyer.”

Photo credit to: aei.org

Can technology end police discrimination?

Updated: June 16, 2015

I’m not going to sit here and try to convince anyone that Big Brother is not watching. The NSA has made it perfectly clear that Americans are no longer entitled to privacy, and we as a people have accepted that. Why? Because of terrorism. Fair enough, but what happens when the threat is not from terrorists, but from our own police officers?

It seems our government has finally realized just how much of a liability our boys in blue have become. In response to the latest incident in Ferguson, President Obama has asked Congress for $75 million to invest in body cameras for our nation’s police officers. Highly controversial and very timely, the topic of police brutality and use of deadly force has become a daily nation-wide discussion.

Now look, I have friends who happen to be cops. I have friends who are cops-in-training. They’re college students who’re still wide-eyed and optimistic about the world waiting on the other side of their diploma. What’s their opinion on this, you ask? Simply put, it’s a mixed bag. These guys (and gals) are the future of law enforcement, and they’re smart enough to know that something has to be done about the declining public view of police officers in America. This is good, especially considering the ever-sensitive issue of race has been at the forefront of nearly every one of these cop-on-kid cases.

Think about it. Which would the American people prefer: a dead teenager in the street, or a speeding ticket? This may be a loaded question, but a valid one none-the-less. Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, both proof that the race issue in he U.S. is far from settled, especially when police are involved. And thanks to 24-hour cable news networks and the omnipresent internet, these incidents are no longer isolated.

Can you imagine how much more galvanizing the civil rights movement would have been if pedestrians with camera phones had been in the streets of Birmingham when cops were blasting blacks with fire hoses? What about if YouTube was around for the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago? Or the Watts Riots in LA a few years prior? Something tells me all of the above would have gotten more than a few hits.

The night the grand jury announced that Officer Wilson would not be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown, there were massive demonstrations and protests in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and of course, St. Louis. And thanks to the miracle of modern media, the whole world got to see it as it was happening. Now imagine that Officer Wilson had been wearing a body camera on that fateful day in August. Would Brown still be alive? Would Wilson still have walked free? There’s no way to know for sure, but the implications are far too significant to ignore.

Equipping our nation’s police with body cams is one of the smartest moves our government can make. Sure, some may call it federal overreach, others may call it a waste of taxpayer money. But consider the amount of money in damages caused by the people of Ferguson when they burnt the city to the ground. I think $75 million worth of body cameras is a very sound investment both fiscally and morally.

One only has to go so far as to look at surrounding literature for further insight on the implications of race and police. A brilliant example of such literature is the 2000 book Driving While Black by Kenneth Meeks. In this bold book, Meeks lays bare the nature of race relations in the United States, and how profiling by police is not only possible, but occurs on a regular basis. “In 1999 in the wake of a national outcry by civil rights officials and leaders of color against the police practice of racial profiling across the country, the New Jersey state Attorney General’s office initiated an investigation into the allegation that its state troopers engaged in the practice.”

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s yet another example of history repeating itself. Take the Eric Garner incident for example. Garner was placed in a chokehold and wrestled to the ground by four police officers because he was allegedly “selling loose cigarettes.” An obese man, Garner died as a result of the altercation and the lack of oxygen it caused him. What makes the Garner incident so prominent? There was videotape. Yes, someone was recording the tussle between the cops and Garner, and the video soon got widespread media attention.

This incident shows that racial discrimination by police is not only a long-standing practice, but also an ongoing problem in our communities. Will constant video surveillance prevent deaths like those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner? Some say no, after another grand jury acquitted all four police officers who where involved in Eric Garner’s death. But I say equipping our nation’s cops with a little supervision is still a good idea.

While this may be viewed as a punishment, officers themselves may actually support the measure after conflicting reports surfaced regarding whether or not Michael Brown had his hands up during his altercation with Officer Wilson. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Police officers understandably object to the notion that one of their own would shoot someone with his hands up.” Politicians at both the national and local levels support the implementation of body cams. Most notably, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “We’re going to see the officers’ perspective, literally. I think that’s powerful.” And I agree. After all, who polices the police?

Photo credit to: abcnews.go.com