Recently, a coalition of groups including the ACLU and the Center for Victims of Torture urged the Biden administration to change the Army Field Manual guidelines for interrogations. But their definition of what constitutes “torture” is absurdly broad. Should it be adopted, the only winners are those who seek to murder innocents.
Friedrich Nietzsche did indeed warn, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.” He didn’t say to let monsters run amok. The Army manual already takes care. It bans waterboarding, mock executions, electric shocks and greases up the slippery slope by telling interrogators not to “threaten or coerce.”
Now this coalition seeks to add “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” definitions so open to interpretation, they’re as likely to chill interrogation as similarly unspecific ones allowed the George W. Bush administration to expand them. We could end up with a 19th Hijacker sitting in under a seaweed wrap, serenaded by whale sounds, while his confederates hit the flight simulator.
The letter also asks President Biden to ban the “Emotional Fear-Up Approach,” which plays on a detainee’s fears, and the “Emotional-Futility Approach [that] engenders a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness.” They just described Ralphie’s mother in “A Christmas Story,” and she put a bar of soap in the boy’s mouth, which would never be allowed at Gitmo.
Nor could she “threaten” her son with grounding or “coerce” him with promises of an Official Red Ryder, Carbine-Action, 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.
Try writing an NCIS screenplay within these limitations and see if it makes for believable television. By the same token, people who call all interrogations torture say it doesn’t work. Really? Then how come millions of shows feature a cop bracing a bad guy for information? Do viewers throw up their hands. “Pfft! That wouldn’t work!” Any kid who’s ever played “Uncle” knows different. Just ask Ralphie.
The letter further states, “President Biden has repeatedly made clear that he is categorically opposed to torture.” Really? Discussing how he’d deal with the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006, the then-senator told disgraced journalist Chris Matthews, “If you want to say how to punish somebody, put al-Zarqawi in a prison with a bunch of red-blooded American criminals.”
Mr. Biden’s not alone. Speaking as someone who watched the towers fall from my Hoboken apartment across the Hudson, it’s hard to keep cool as your neighbors’ ashes waft through the window. Blood cries out for blood, which is why Hollywood is vocally against the death penalty yet cranks out endless revenge fantasies where villains suffer gruesome deaths.
To prevent the nuclear attack Iran’s dictatorship has been dreaming about for 45 years, the Army Field Manual must arm interrogators with sticks as well as carrots, because after a war starts, the gloves will come off. The Latin phrase is inter arma enim silent leges. “In times of war, the law falls silent.”
Pie-in-the-sky rules will only make attacks and retaliatory abuses more likely, as terrorists will comb them for loopholes, just as al Qaeda did our airport security measures. And they’ll sense weakness, just as bin Laden did when he declared the U.S. a paper tiger after the Black Hawk Down incident.
From the Lusitania and Pearl Harbor to 9/11, foes have misjudged America, thinking we won’t fight back. Add to this that our society is increasingly accepting of revenge and vigilantism over justice. Even childhood icons like Superman and Optimus Prime kill people now. Rare is a president like William McKinley who resisted war with Spain for so long after the USS Maine explosion, Congress threatened to declare war over his objections.
As James Madison wrote in opposing the Bill of Rights, mere “paper barriers” do not protect liberties. Witness New Jersey’s governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, who when asked how his COVID-19 lockdown squared with the Bill of Rights, laughed, “That’s above my pay grade,” or FDR signing the infamous (and insidiously broad) Executive Order 9066 to send citizens of Japanese descent into prison camps.
Then there’s Lincoln, who reminded us that the Constitution is not a suicide pact when suspending habeas corpus, exiling Democratic congressman Clement Vallandigham into the hands of Confederates, and other rebellious citizens in ways that would be defined as torture under these new rules.
A debate on raising our moral standards is always a good one to have, so bring it on. But the U.S. has fought monsters before without turning into them. The key is a realistic view of the threats we face. Because having to choose between burning to death and leaping from the 106th floor fits anyone’s definition of torture.
• Dean Karayanis is content producer for “The Rush Limbaugh Show” and host of “History Author Show” on iHeartRadio.