The VigilanceVoice

Monday-- April 15, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 216

The Torture Warrant
"Legalizing Terror"

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 15--A Terrorist suspect is locked in an interrogation room.   Intelligence confirms he is part of a group who has planted a bomb in a New York City subway, but where and what time it will explode is not known.   The door to the interrogation room bursts open. An FBI agent shouts:  “The judge issued the Torture Warrant.  Have at it!”
      The suspect is strapped into a bleak wooden chair.   Sterilized sharp needles are slowly, painfully stuck under his fingernails.   He is beaten with non-lethal force.   He screams and cries in pain.   The needles are shoved deeper under the nail quick; the beatings increase until he cannot stand the pain.
       “Just tell us when and where, and we’ll stop.  Nothing you have said will be used against you in court.  No one will ever know you told us.”
      The Voice is soothing, assuaging the pain.   The Terrorist suspect babbles out the information.   Immediately, it is radioed to bomb disposal teams who rush to the scene, confirm the presence of the weapon and disarm it.
                                                              * * *

      This is the scenario civil rights advocate Alan Dershowitz is proposing. (I added the beatings).
      Dershowitz is calling for debate over issuing a Torture Warrant--the purpose of which is to allow authorities to inflict physical pain on suspects in a “ticking bomb” situation where immediate lives will be saved if information is quickly gathered.
      His advocacy for the legalization of torture isn’t new.   He started promoting it in 1988 after a trip to Israel, the only democracy in the modern world that allows legalized torture under exigent circumstances.
      Israeli law recognizes the power of its security agencies to employ “moderate physical pressure” to elicit information from terrorists about ongoing threats.  Confessions gained from such “moderate physical pressure,” cannot be used against the suspect, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, and the agent who administered the “physical pressure” could defend himself against criminal charges by invoking the “law of necessity.”
       Dershowitz is beating the drum here in America, rallying debate over the sanctioning of illegal torture to be used in such situations.  His thinking is that by allowing Torture Warrants, a judge would rule on the issue of administering pain and be ultimately responsible for such acts of violence.   This would constrain more brutal, under-the-table assaults on suspects, he claims, an often common occurrence when the doors to various interrogation rooms are tightly shut.
       Opponents to the use of Torture Warrants are afraid of the slippery slope—that the “ticking bomb” situation might become fuzzy, and torture, now banned by all democracies except Israel, might become a standard  rather than an exception.
        Dershowitz, a Harvard Law professor and advocate of civil liberties, is a least-likely Voice to be cheering the violence of suspects.   At 28 years of age, he was the youngest professor in the history of Harvard appointed to teach at the world-famous higher education institution known for its liberal viewpoints on human rights.   The vociferous attorney and champion of the underdog has been critical of the handling of al-Qaeda prisoners, fighting for their civil and human rights and a leader opposing military tribunals.
       Newsweek has called him “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawyers and one of its most distinguished defenders of individual rights.”
       In a hundred-and-eighty degree turn, he drops the promotion of the Torture Warrant into the laps of Americans who previously viewed  him as the Statue Of Civil Liberties.
       Vigilance can certainly change a person’s viewpoints.
       The threat of one’s children, mother or father, uncle or cousin, nephew or niece being blown to bits by a suicide bomber, or sitting in a seat on an airplane used as an airborne torpedo, swings one's head from the left to the right with a loud, mortal snap.
       Quite frankly, I never knew it was illegal to torture prisoners.  In Vietnam, if a prisoner was taken and the enemy was threatening, that prisoner was given whatever force was necessary to divulge information that would save the lives of my comrades.  I can't recall anyone radioing in for permission to exercise "moderate" or "severe" force to elicit information that might stop one Marine from falling victim to booby trap or walk into an ambush.
       The most expert at getting such information was a South Carolina lieutenant, who had a soft Southern accent and could grind his Voice down to gravel when he had to.  He spoke fluent Vietnamese, accentuating it with his Southern drawl of course.   On sweeps through enemy territory when we captured a prisoner, he would kneel beside him and speak in Vietnamese, telling the prisoner what he was going to do to him unless he told us where the danger was ahead.
       At first he seemed to be the man's friend, but then the tone of his Voice would thicken, and the barbed wire tonal edges would still the air.   If he got nothing from the prisoner, he would take out a long, razor sharp hunting knife he wore at his side and place it under the Viet Cong's throat, reviewing what was about to happen.  If still no information was forthcoming, he drew the knife slowly until blood began to rush down the prisoner's neck.
       Almost instantly, the mouth of the prisoner-- frozen at  first--unlocked and a barrage of information verbiaged out.   The lieutenant would smile and relay the information to the scouts for verification, then give the prisoner a wipe along the jawbone with a cloth he carried, showing him how he had only cut through the skin, and not the jugular.  And reminding him if the information was not accurate, he would finish what he started.
       I also witnessed what I considered to be innocent people beaten to death, their bodies mangled by torture so horrible I often awaken seeing the looks of pleading in their eyes.   In some cases torture saved lives, in others it was administered for the sheer pleasure, I believe, of those who, wallowing in the legitimacy of power over another human being, abused that right (if such a right exists) and became worse than any enemy we were fighting.
      Legalizing torture, as William Buckley Jr., argues, removes the "moral curtain" separating us from the beasts we fight.   Once it is removed, the thin barrier between the civilized and uncivilized collapses, and the defenses of humanity become cancerous.
      Part of me--the beast part--understands torture as a final and necessary resort to elicit information from "ticking bomb" scenarios.   I have looked in the face of the beast and know when one is put to the final painful test where the threat of torturous pain versus its relief hangs on the issuance of information, that the beast within us crying for survival often dumps loyalty and self-sacrifice in favor of survival.
      But I worry about the soil of torture.
      My own soul is tainted by it, to degrees Mr. Dershowitz may never comprehend.  So, I'm sure, are all those who either have witnessed it or administered it.   It is hypnotic to say the least.   Inside, after the first waves of revulsion pass, the Beast of Terror rises up from the well of human ugliness.   The mouth waters.   The primal powers of authority over another rise to the surface until one starts to enjoy what is happening to another in a cruel and sadistic way--as though the veils of morality had been ignited and only the shadows of man's dark soul was left, snuffing out any righteousness or sympathy or compassion for whomever is being tortured.
       While I am not equipped to argue all the intricacies of legitimizing Torture Warrants, I do know that mankind must have some restraints from sanctioning the brutality of one human being by another.   The most anti-violent person viewing such a spectacle can change in a flash, as Mr. Dershowitz has by promoting the debate.  He or she can become a Beast of Terror, no less base than those he or she tortures or witnesses the tortures.
        Human beings in this battle of Terror must stand Vigilant against being sucked into Terrorism's quagmire of moral morass.   They say that if you swim with the sharks long enough you become one, and I know that to be true in my own case, and suspect it true in countless others.
       I believe the most concerned among us who think violence is the worst act, but, due to forces of Terrorism agree to allow "moderate physical force" to extract information on a "legal plane," would ultimately regret voting for its authorization.
       In the long-run, it sinks humankinds moral ship.   At first the legalization of Terror  is a small hole in the hull, but as it widens, as it is abused, misused "above the table," it turns into a horror.
       In a way, allowing Torture Warrants is doing what the Terrorists want.  Their goal ultimately is to cripple America's resolve, to destroy what it stands for.   One of the things America has always stood proudest about is its concern for human and civil rights. Each chip we make at our moral rock weakens our fabric as a symbol of Hope for a world.
      I would think the Sentinels of Vigilance who stand guard over the World Trade Center, and Pentagon, and in that lonely field in Pennsylvania where Fight 96 crashed, would shake their heads in shame that we even entertained such a thought.
      The head of the al Qaeda operations, bin Laden's right hand man, who was recently caught, is one of the first tests of the Torture Warrant.  One suggestion is to fly him to another country where torture can be legally administered.   I cringe at the thought.  By crossing the border, we cross the line. 
      We turn from Sentinels of Vigilance to Sentinels of Terror.   I think that's too big a leap for me.
       Just don't ask me what I will do if Terrorists had a bomb planted near my children's house or how I would extract the information as to its location

       Semper Vigilantes.

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