April 15, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 216
The Torture Warrant
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
Go To April 14--"Please, Help