Col. Nathan R. Jessep, protrayed by Jack Nicholas
Every time the issue of torture use resurfaces for more debate, I am reminded of the famously angry and potently visceral monologue of Col. Nathan R. Jessep. The character played by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”. I’m not referring to the now overly used cliche: “You can’t handle the truth!” No, I am referring to the far more appropriate dialogue that followed.
Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and curse the Marines; you have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives and that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives.
The monologue is especially apropos to the current political faux outrage over the use of water-boarding on captured terrorists. Granted, Col. Jessep is talking about the ordered hazing of an under-performing junior Marine. Change “Santiago” to “terrorist”, “death” to “interrogation”, and “Marines” to “CIA” and you have a perfectly apropos statement.
The simple fact of the matter is that Col. Jessep, or rather the writers, have it right. The world does have walls, and they need vigilant, armed guards on them. People who don’t stand on those walls have the luxury of not knowing, or rather, they prefer to ignore what it takes to keep them safe. Most politicians have an idea of what it takes, but prefer to look the other way until it becomes politically untenable. However, once the story breaks they turn on the ones that have kept them safe… because it’s the “right” thing to do.
Just how right is it? The masses demand their freedom and safety, yet once they hear of what it takes to accomplish that, they turn on those that they demanded provide freedom and safety. However, if those “grotesque and incomprehensible” men-on-the-wall did not do everything, including “torture”, to ensure the safety of the general public and an attack occurred — and it would — these same individuals would demand the heads of our men-on-the-wall for NOT dragging the information out of terrorists by any means necessary. It’s astoundingly hypocritical. The hypocrites won’t admit to it though.
At least most of the fervently “anti-torture” crowd have given up the “torture doesn’t work” argument. Because it does. Even the Executive Editor of lefty site Salon.com, Gary Kamiya, admits it. Of course, he goes on to say that it still isn’t appropriate. Unless, it is a “ticking bomb” situation, and then it’s debatable. The “ticking bomb” scenario is one in which you have all certainties. The suspect DID plant a bomb. The bomb WILL go off at a specific time. Accurately, Gary states that this doesn’t actually happen in the real world. However, he errs in using this assertion to defend the stance that while torture works, it is never justified. I’m going to have to disagree there. I draw particular issue with his statement that breaking up terrorist networks is not the same thing as stopping the attacks.
No one can say whether those captured would have carried out other terrorist attacks. There are too many unknown factors. Dick Cheney recently argued that classified documents will show that the use of torture stopped “a great many” terrorist attacks. But unless those documents reveal a “24”-like situation in which the use of torture somehow actually stops an imminent attack from taking place, a situation that has never come up in the real world, his statement is false. Breaking up terror networks is not the same thing as “stopping” terrorist attacks.
There is plenty of history to show that had the terrorists not been captured, or had been released, they would certainly carry out other attacks. It’s a given. A known quantity. It is as certain as death and taxes. To deny it is show a certain naivete. Also, to state that a “24-like” scenario has never played out is presumptuous at best. There are a great deal of classified operations that we know nothing about… and a “24-like” scenario isn’t too far fetched in today’s world. Furthermore, breaking up terror networks IS the same thing as stopping terrorist attacks. It is actually better. Terrorists terrorize. It is what they do, it is what they signed up for. There is no other purpose for a terrorist organization than to commit acts of terrorism. One cannot sit back and hope to simply stop an ongoing attack. It is that mentality that led to 9/11. Conversely, the post 9/11 policy of being proactive is what has kept this country safe from attack for the last seven years. The evidence to the contrary of Mr. Kamiya’s statement is illustrated by the fact that some 70% of released detainees immediately return to terrorist cells. Breaking the networks IS the same as stopping an attack. Rest assured that if the networks are not stopped there WILL be an attack.
However, the populists don’t want to recognize that. They don’t want to know about it. They would prefer their heads collectively remain in the sand. They want the benefit of the Bush interrogation policy… without the policy. Absent the latter, they would simply rather not know about it. Making the second half of Col. Jessep’s monologue all the more fitting.
You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.
That is the plain and simple truth of it all. As regrettable as it is to need “enhanced interrogation methods”, we do need them. Without them, terrorists would not give the information necessary to thwart their plots. They won’t talk if you ask them nicely or even forcefully. They won’t talk because they truly want and wish for us to die. There is no leverage to use against a terrorist to coerce information… outside of the enhanced interrogation methods.
Personally, as someone who has experienced water-boarding many times, being stuck in the hot box for hours on end, stress positioning, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, wall standing and a myriad of other supposed “torture” techniques. I can state flat out that those things are NOT torture methods. Things that were done to Nazi prisoners, POWs in Korea, China and Vietnam were torture. Water-boarding, the harshest of the methods, does not even compare. Many still argue that it is, in fact, still torture. Even if it were, how is saving American and innocent lives not justification for causing discomfort to an enemy?
Populists can rest their case on supposed “moral authority” but just how moral is letting your own people die so that a politician can say that they don’t support torture? At the end of the day the only thing that that “moral authority” has gotten them will be a bunch of dead Americans and a smiling enemy. It goes without saying that I would also much prefer a terrorist be water-boarded than have a plane hijacked and crashed into a populated building… or worse. The entire civilized world knows this, the only difference is, they don’t put their methods on public broadcast – so that the populists can pretend it doesn’t happen.
Perhaps the populists should pay attention to what Col. Jessep had to say… As I am certain that those who are being drug through mud right now, for the sake of politics, share the sentiment.
I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you,” and went on your way.
In closing, If I may, myself, borrow a line from the Colonel. Mr. Obama, when you released those memos and started a fire-storm on Capitol Hill for your own political gain… “all you did was weaken a country today. That’s all you did. You put people’s lives in danger. Sweet dreams, sir.”