Was it a U.S. mistake to use waterboarding?

Shaunti Feldhahn, a right-leaning columnist, writes the commentary this week, and Andrea Sarvady, a left-leaning columnist, responds.

Shaunti Feldhahn
Federal civil servants take an oath of office modeled on the president’s own, which begins, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies.” At great personal cost since 9/11, our intelligence employees have been pursuing terrorists and preventing more homeland tragedies – and it’s shocking that they have now been undermined and demoralized by the president himself.
Our protector in chief has said it was a “mistake” to use coercive interrogation techniques on al-Qaida masterminds – despite the fact that the resulting information saved us from another 9/11 on the West Coast. President Obama said we surely could have gotten the information another way. Really? Presumably, any techniques would need to be coercive or the terrorist would have answered the first time we asked. Yet our president has now banned their use.
Terrorists worldwide probably share the same disbelief as many Americans at our president prioritizing the comfort of evil men over the safety of our people. Hard work to track and capture doesn’t matter from now on: Under the Obama administration, the terrorists know we can’t do a thing to compel them to share their information. Open season on Americans.
No American wants us to become the barbarians we are trying to fight, and Obama’s implication that our methods were equivalent is deeply offensive. Unlike al-Qaida, we are not burning, castrating or blinding our detainees with branding irons. Even waterboarding, the most intense CIA technique, does no permanent harm – American soldiers undergo it in survival training – and was authorized only under strict guidelines.
A May 2005 Justice Department memo said it could be used only if the CIA has “credible intelligence that a terrorist attack is imminent,” the detainee has information that could prevent it, and all “other interrogation methods have failed to elicit this information.”
As former CIA director Porter Goss said in a recent Washington Post article, “There is simply no comparison between our professionalism and (the terrorists’) brutality.”
Evil men will leverage every weakness – including naive good intentions. High ideals are one thing, but if we aren’t even allowed to get as tough as waterboarding to save American lives, then we are in serious trouble.
Andrea Sarvady
My colleague would have you believe that there is no action between torture and inaction, when in fact a long list of permissible techniques have elicited crucial information. She would have you believe terrorists worldwide are startled by our newfound aversion to torture, and there she may be right, but for the wrong reasons.
Our civilized behavior here and on the ground in Iraq frustrates al-Qaida because it wins over hearts and minds. Never forget that our enemies in this war aim to be martyrs, so not only is there no evidence that torture yields better information, it’s not even a deterrent.
Still, the fans of torture persist in their beliefs. I’m not sure which “West Coast 9/11″ Shaunti thinks waterboarding prevented. She couldn’t possibly be referring to that FOX News-fueled falsehood that our government stopped an attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles by torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his ilk. We’ve since learned that plot was successfully thwarted in 2002, but Shiekh Mohammed wasn’t captured until 2003. Remember, gang: Karl Rove may put it on his Facebook page, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
The truth is that there is no hard and fast evidence to show that waterboarding elicited any lifesaving information, but there’s plenty of data to suggest that techniques were applied far beyond the guidelines of the Justice Department and violated the U.N. Convention Against Torture ratified by the United States in 1994. Many of us were horrified by the Bush administration’s attempt to alter the Geneva Conventions. What’s our next move? Simply hope that the people who capture our soldiers don’t do as we do?
I find it particularly odd that polls conducted by the Pew Forum and Faith in Public Life both reveal that many of the same conservative folks who are against embryonic stem cell research and abortion for any reason whatsoever, even to save existing lives, think that torture can often be justified.
Say what? Aren’t the righteous expected to rise above the devil, not emulate him? Let me get this straight: If a conservative cherishes life only when it’s convenient, she’s being practical. When a liberal is this inconsistent, she’s called a moral relativist. Talk about tortured logic …
Andrea Sarvady (ASarvad@gmail.com) is a writer and educator specializing in counseling, and a married mother of three. Shaunti Feldhahn (scfeldhahn@yahoo.com) is a conservative Christian author and speaker, and married mother of two children. Writ to them at Universal Press, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo.

Joe Rutherford