Sep 19, 2006

Coercive interrogation techniques a necessary evil

by Jenni Thurman
I must confess that I am a borderline obsessive fan of the Fox television drama “24,” which features the infamous Jack Bauer, a field agent for the Counter Terrorist Unit in Los Angeles. For five seasons I have watched Jack save the world from deadly nerve gas, nuclear bombs and power plants, a potential presidential assassination and a lethal virus, all in the span of five real-time days. Jack is faced with numerous situations in which the fate of humanity rests in the interrogation of a single terrorist suspect. When precious seconds are literally slipping away, Jack is forced to use cruel physical and psychological techniques to get the terrorists to confess. 
     While Jack Bauer’s extreme interrogation methods seem downright appalling, reality tells us that situations may arise in which brute force is necessary to extract information from terrorists who threaten the safety of America. Interrogation techniques were brought into the limelight this past week when the Pentagon issued a new Army Field Manual, which bans a laundry list of procedures that have been rendered inhumane, but nonetheless proven to be successful in the past. With no end in sight to the war on terror, Capitol Hill has tied the hands of specially trained CIA and military interrogation specialists by preventing the use of techniques that could be necessary in future national emergencies.
     Interrogation techniques were initially re-evaluated because of this year’s controversial Supreme Court case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that enemy combatants are protected under the Geneva Convention, which bans any maltreatment of detainees, period. Justice Clarence Thomas was the most outspoken of the dissenting judges. According to an article by Tom Head, Justice Thomas proclaimed that the Supreme Court has no right to officiate military issues, which are primarily directed by the Executive Branch, and that terrorists should not receive protection under the Geneva Convention because they are not parties to the treaty and they function in “multiple theaters of operation.” The court ruling will “sorely hamper the president's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy,” said Justice Thomas in a article. 
     The new Army Field Manual prohibits eight previously approved interrogation techniques,           preventing interrogators from using any physical force to obtain information. Professional interrogators have been left with techniques such as verbal abuse and physical exhaustion to break some of the world’s most fierce   terrorists. While these restrictions seem more humane in theory, what happens when a terrorist highly trained in resisting conventional interrogation methods holds crucial information about a planned terrorist attack on American soil? Choose the most ethical decision – inflict temporary pain and humiliation on the terrorist and save numerous lives, or comply with national human rights standards, and watch the deaths of thousands or even millions of unsuspecting

     Critics of using physical pressure to obtain information from terrorists argue that the method is immoral. However, an article that appeared in The Charlotte Observer stated, “Many veteran interrogators believe that the use of such methods to extract information is justified if it could save lives -- whether by forcing an enemy soldier to reveal his army's battlefield positions or forcing terrorists to betray the details of ongoing plots.” When thousands of innocent, civilian lives are taken into consideration, the momentary pain and discomfort of a terrorist who feels no remorse for the murders and atrocious crimes he has committed presents a morally sound means to an end.

     A scenario in which a nuclear bomb will be detonated in 15 seconds unless the terrorist gives up the reprogramming code is a dramatic and terrifying hypothetical situation. In pondering how to handle such a dilemma, I can’t help but wonder WWJBD – What Would Jack Bauer Do? Exodus 21:23-25 reads, “But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”  I would label 9/11 as a serious injury to the American people and a crime that is slowly being avenged through the war on terror. Coercive interrogation techniques are an unfortunate but necessary evil that must be used to protect our country from future terrorist attacks. Although most Americans don’t like to stomach the thought, injuring one terrorist so that millions of innocent people can live is a harsh but necessary decision to make.

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