Opinion

Waterboarding dilemma is pure torture

By Ken Schram, political commentary

I’m conflicted.

I’ve been following the whole waterboarding controversy for quite a while and find myself ping-ponging back and forth on the issue.

For those unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, waterboarding is euphemistically referred to as a “harsh interrogation technique.”

But let’s call it what it really is: Torture.

It involves immobilizing a person on his back, with his head tilted backwards and downward.

Water is then poured over the face and into his nose and mouth.

The result is that the person inhales some of the water, begins to gag and is made to feel as if he’s drowning.

The CIA has acknowledged using this technique — with the authorization of the U.S. Justice Department — on a handful of al-Qaida suspects.

So why am I conflicted?

Well, my initial reaction in hearing about waterboarding: Since when did the United States of America condone torture as a means of gathering information?

We’re supposed to better than that. We’re supposed to be the good guys; the ones that stand on principle. Our laws and national conscience say that we don’t torture people. But we do.

Someone asked me if I would change my mind about torturing someone if it involved getting information about a small nuclear device hidden in an American city and just hours away from being detonated.

Is saving the lives of tens of thousands of people worth waterboarding one person who knows where that device is hidden?

I didn’t have to think about that too long. Yes, get the information through whatever means necessary.

That put me on a pretty damn slippery slope.

Next I was asked about a situation in which only five lives were at risk. Would I condone torture if it meant saving just those five lives?

I thought about that scenario a lot longer. Before I came up with an answer, the question morphed into “What if those lives to be saved were my family?”

The answer then came quickly: “Yes.”

But those were rhetorical questions and the reality of my principles still shouted that torture was wrong.

Torture is the Gestapo and the old Soviet KGB. Torture is not the United States. But it is.

The conundrum here is that while our moral principles hold us to certain standards, those who would do us harm operate under a different set of standards.

They strap bombs on mentally retarded youngsters, send them into a crowd and use a remote control device to kill and maim.

But do the actions of our enemies justify abandoning what makes us better than they?

When the president and Congress make decisions that they believe are in the best interests of national security, do we, by proxy, give them tacit permission to do what we would otherwise abhor?

I put these questions to you because misery loves company.

I’ve rolled this waterboarding issue around in my head for quite a while now, not being able to reconcile the dilemma of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

I remain conflicted. How about you?

Ken Schram is a KOMO-TV and radio commentator whose radio feature with John Carlson, “The Commentators,” airs weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on AM 570 KVI. Contact: kenschram@komo4news.com.

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