Column: Fighting the right way

By Craig Colbrook

I will be the first to admit that few of the political slugfests in Washington, D.C. make any sense. Even with that being said, though, the current fight over torture seems particularly illogical. It’s a no-brainer to me – the U.S. shouldn’t torture. Democrats, republicans and even President Bush agree on that point. So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is Vice President Dick Cheney, the man who proves you can get things done in Washington without constitutional power, an ethical staff, or even an approval rating above 20 percent. Cheney and his supporters say that while the U.S. doesn’t use or condone torture, we may need it at some point to fight the war on terror or prevent an imminent attack.

Actually, their argument isn’t completely crazy once you get rid of that pesky factor called “human decency.” Basically, torture is just a tool used to gather intelligence, information on where Osama Bin Laden is hiding, or where the terrorists have planted bombs around the country. It is undeniably extreme, but even the Vice President isn’t advocating its use – he’s just saying we may have to use it at some point.

Torture is just one more option, then, and with the stakes of the war on terror, we can’t really limit our options. It’d be like promising to play touch football rules, but letting your opponents tackle. And al-Qaida would have no problem torturing our troops, so we have to be prepared to do the same.

And you know what? I believe at least part of that. I believe that al-Qaida would torture an American to get information. I’m not sure they’d need to, because Geraldo and the gang at Fox News are all too happy to give away troop positions or any other U.S. actions. But hell, these guys are terrorists; they’d do it even if they didn’t need to.

Then again, terrorists would do a lot of things. They attack skyscrapers, hotels and subways. They provide only the flimsiest of justifications for their attacks, and they don’t seem to care about the difference between civilian and military targets. In fact, they seem to prefer to attack the innocents.

The U.S. isn’t like that. We don’t want to destroy things just for the sake of destruction, and we usually bend over backwards to protect civilians, even the ones who don’t like us.

What I’m saying is, if the vice president is right and we have to use the same tactics as the terrorists, we end up becoming terrorists ourselves. I’m pretty sure that a lot of us would be uncomfortable with that.

Luckily, I’m also pretty sure that Cheney’s argument is wrong. Israel has been besieged by terrorists for decades, but the Israeli supreme court outlawed torture in interrogations in 1999. And Israel’s still here. Their intelligence agency, the Mossad, is still highly respected at information gathering. (In fact, they knew I was going to write about them before I even knew it.)

So you don’t need torture for good intelligence. But more importantly, torture often produces bad intelligence.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told CNN’s Late Edition on Nov. 13 that torturing terror suspects yields bad information, as the suspect will often say anything just to end the pain. Roberts probably knows what he’s talking about, since he’s the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

That alone seems to be enough practical reason not to torture, but there are plenty more. It hurts our moral reputation in the world. It makes it more likely that our soldiers will be tortured in retaliation. And, to bring back what we earlier set aside, it’s inhumane.

So, why are we even debating this, again? The only thing I can figure is that Cheney has lost contact with reality. That might be a scary prospect, but hell, we’ve been dealing with it for five years now, it can hardly be a surprise.

Craig Colbrook is a senior in Communications. His column appears every Friday. He can be reached at opinions @dailyillini.com.