We have just heard from another voice, this one of media elite fame, who tells us that torture is a very bad thing, always, and should never be tolerated, no matter what.
Yes, we’ve heard this tune before, many, many times before, but never from Ted Kopell, the longtime ABC News journalist who just delivered his first commentary for the BBC’s World News America. Ted is a journalist of some gravitas, which makes his premiere commentary that much more disappointing.
Not only is there nothing new in his observations about torture – or what he calls torture, in any event — but his commentary is infused with a shallowness that does not become Koppel, who always struck me as one of the more thoughtful journalists in the world of television news.
Let’s start where Ted starts, with water-boarding, which Koppel believes is a clear-cut case of torture. Rather than spend time debating the point, let’s, instead, ask Ted a few simple questions: If you think water-boarding is torture — even with an American doctor present during the process and even with specific rules in place about how long the terrorist suspect can be water-boarded – then what would Ted call eye-gauging to extract a confession? How would he describe the process of ripping a prisoner’s fingernails out to get him to talk? What would he call it when interrogations use a hot poker on a suspect in order to get information?
Are they in the same moral galaxy as water-boarding — again, with a doctor standing by to make sure nothing goes wrong? Ted may think so. I don’t.
Ted also says that our national policy on torture should be “blindingly simple” and this is it: “Torture is always illegal, and those who use it will always be prosecuted.”
“Let those who violate our stated national principles on torture be put on notice,” he goes on, ” it is against American law no matter where or under what circumstances it’s employed, and violations of that law will lead to prison.”
While Ted does a pretty good job of plowing the same old ground, he doesn’t open any new fields of inquiry. He doesn’t seem to see any moral complexities in the torture debate. Ted needs to tell us, for example, what great “national principles” would be upheld by allowing innocent Americans to die if so-called torture might save their lives? This is never part of the debate. The anti-torture contingent merely says, “Torture is bad” and we’re all supposed to nod in agreement at the obvious moral clarity of the statement.
But Ted – and President Obama for that matter – need to answer a few more questions before I start nodding. Would “torture” be acceptable if it meant saving a thousand lives in a big city in the “ticking bomb” scenario? What if just one or two lives were on the line? Say, the lives of their children? Would they approve of torture to save them? Any decent person would say Yes in the blink of an eye – and I trust Ted Koppel and Barack Obama would be among them. Then why not approve torture to save somebody else’s children?
Of course Ted and the others say there are other ways to extract information, that torture isn’t necessary. Really? Like what? And why would American interrogators torture a terrorist with knowledge of an imminent attack if they could get the information they need through other less “enhanced” methods?
What bothers me most about Ted Koppel’s observations is not just that they’re paper-thin, but that they’re immoral. I know, I know: the anti-torture folks think of themselves as the moral ones. But how is allowing innocents to die when water-boarding or other “enhanced” interrogation methods might save them … how is that moral?
That’s another question Ted and the others are never called upon to answer.