The following column originally appeared at Big Peace on September 24, 2011:
I read “NBC’s Lauer to Cheney: You’re the ‘Most Divisive Political Figure in This Country in a Century’” at Newsbusters and was struck by Lauer’s inability to comprehend reality.
The relevant portion of the Newsbusters’ transcript of the televised interview includes the following exchange:
LAUER: Enhanced interrogation techniques: In your book, you state bluntly you have no regrets about being in favor of things like waterboarding – I think you say even if circumstances were the same today you’d make the same decisions....If an American citizen were to be taken into captivity in Iran, for example, and the government of Iran were to look at that person and say, ‘We think you’re a spy for the U.S. or you’re here to carry out a covert operation. Would it be okay for the Iranian government to waterboard that American citizen?
CHENEY: Well, we probably would object to it.
LAUER: On the grounds that it’s torture?
CHENEY: On the grounds that we have obligations towards our citizens. And that we do everything we can to protect our citizens and to put them through a process that we think is appropriate.
LAUER: So why was it okay for us to use what most people would say was torture against terror suspects?
CHENEY: Well, remember, first of all, these were not American citizens. We weren’t dealing with American citizens in the enhanced interrogation program. Secondly, it was people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, there were a handful, two or three, for example, that actually got waterboarded. Third, we had good reason to believe they had information that we could only get from them and that they knew more than anybody else.
LAUER: But if the government of Iran were capture someone and say, ‘We have reason to believe that you’re a spy or you’re carrying out an operation that could be damaging to our country, would you object or would you say they did what they had to do to get the information they needed at the time?
CHENEY: Well, I think we would object because we wouldn’t expect an American citizen to be operating that way. When you’re dealing with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, for example, a man who was the self-admitted mastermind of 9/11, killed 3,000 Americans. And at a time when we had very little knowledge and understanding about Al Qaeda and what they were doing. And after we’d gone through a lot of other procedures and interrogation efforts, then at the end of that process, he was subjected to the program. It was very carefully supervised. None of the techniques used were things that we hadn’t already used on our own people in training.
Lauer’s questioning comes out of a reality where the attacks of September 11, 2001 never occurred. I’m not saying that that is what Lauer believes, but I am saying that his line of questioning sounds as if it is coming from someone pre-September 11, 2001 or from someone who doesn’t acknowledge that September 11, 2001 actually happened.
Asking how Cheney (or the U.S.) would respond to Iranians waterboarding and torturing U.S. citizens is inane. In doing so Lauer does two things: he effectively ignores the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.—the events that led us to waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed and a select few others for the moral purpose of saving the lives of others—and he supposes that the Iranians would have a legitimate reason for waterboarding U.S. citizens. And it is this moral relativity—a denial of objective good and evil—that largely contributes to Lauer’s (and other moral relativists on the left and Right) denial of reality.
Lauer also ignores the fact that our enemies constantly torture us and never have to worry about being interrogated by their own people or getting into legal trouble for what they do. Furthermore, Lauer ignores that there are people like me who think we actually should torture terrorists if that’s what it takes to save lives.
Here are some questions I would like to ask Matt Lauer:
--- If waterboarding is “torture” and “immoral,” how much more is it torture and immoral to shoot an unarmed man in the face?
--- Is abortion torture? If not, what crime have the unborn committed that justifies the horrendous butchering of them?
--- If your answer to the above question is that, “Not all people believe that the unborn are people or that abortion is wrong,” then why can’t I say in answer to your questioning that “torturing” terrorists is wrong, “Not all people believe that terrorists are people or that waterboarding them is wrong,” and feel the same smug sense of self-satisfaction that you and others of the anti-life movement feel?
--- Speaking of abortion, was Gianna Jessen tortured when doctors tried to execute her with a saline solution that burned her while alive? What do you think of President Obama who not only supports such practices, but has publicly voted against medical care and protection for babies who survive failed abortion attempts?
--- Does the fact that we now know that Khalid Sheik Mohammed personally beheaded Daniel Pearl (HT: The Washington Post) make you feel any better over our “torturing” of same said terrorist?
--- Does the fact that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorists, such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, were designed specifically not to torture them but to make it feel as if they were being tortured in order to appeal to their culture and beliefs make you feel any better about our “torturing” of same said terrorists?
--- Why do you defend the immoral position of not waterboarding (and truly torturing) terrorists in order to save the lives of innocent people?
--- If I guarantee to you that I would never “torture” any terrorist in order to find out information that might save the life of you, your family, or anyone else on the left, would you accept that as a bipartisan compromise on which we all could agree?
The bottom line is that we live in an evil world where the employment of force is necessary, where the bad guys don’t play by the rules, and where the rules and agreements of the Geneva Convention are long outdated. Perhaps no one else better expressed this than Warren Kozak when he wrote, “The Real Rules of War” in The Wall Street Journal in 2009. Kozak wrote:
You don’t have to dig too deep to understand that war brings out behavior in people that they would never demonstrate in normal life. In Paul Fussell’s moving memoir, “The Boys’ Crusade,” the former infantryman relates a story about the liberation of Dachau. There were about 120 SS guards who had been captured by the Americans. Even though the Germans were being held at gunpoint, they still had the arrogance—or epic stupidity—to continue to heap verbal abuse and threats on the inmates. Their American guards, thoroughly disgusted by what they had already witnessed in the camp, had seen enough and opened fire on the SS. Some of the remaining SS guards were handed over to the inmates who tore them limb from limb. Another war crime? No doubt. Justified? It depends on your point of view. But before you weigh in, realize that you didn’t walk through the camp. You didn’t smell it. You didn’t witness the obscene horror of the Nazis.
Rules of war are important. They are something to strive for as they separate us from our distant ancestors. But when only one side follows these rules, they no longer elevate us. They create a very unlevel field and more than a little frustration. It is equally bizarre for any of us to judge someone’s behavior in war by the rules we follow in our very peaceful universe. We sit in homes that are air-conditioned in the summer and warmed in the winter. We have more than enough food in our bellies and we get enough sleep. The stress in our lives won’t ever match the stress of battle. Can we honestly begin to decide if a soldier acted in compliance with rules that work perfectly well on Main Street but not, say, in Malmedy or Fallujah?
In his book, Mr. Fussell probably sums up the feelings of many soldiers when he quotes a British captain, John Tonkin, who experienced a great deal of the war. “I have always felt,” Capt. Tonkin said, “that the Geneva Convention is a dangerous piece of stupidity, because it leads people to believe that war can be civilized. It can’t.”
War can’t be civilized.
That’s good advice for all of us to remember as we fight against foreign enemies, and as we fight against domestic enemies who live in a fantasy land where those who praise evil are the good guys, while those of us who want to defeat evil are the bad guys.