To Defeat Terrorism, America Must Keep Torture in Its Arsenal

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), June 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

To Defeat Terrorism, America Must Keep Torture in Its Arsenal


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Nolan Nelson

In his June 16 guest viewpoint, Rev. Daniel Bryant joins other popular voices to label as torture those legitimate steps a civilized society took to protect itself from catastrophe. Such arguments cloud public awareness of past and continuing threats to our security - threats without precedent in our nation's history. When we become distracted from the enormity of these threats, we become complacent - and even begin to criminalize the acts of people who risk their own lives to counter enemies who are dissociated from country or culture, and deeply committed to butchery.

This current denunciation of supposed torture and torturers proceeds from believing that political capital and moral authority can be earned at a safe distance by berating people who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf. To regard such actions as criminal requires asymmetrical morality, undefiled by any perception of danger to ourselves or others. Placating those who covet such a luxurious, dilemma-free morality forces us to ignore military and intelligence professionals who face shrewd, ruthless enemies in a conflict fraught with frightening uncertainties.

Terrorists never display the civility required by the Geneva Conventions. Terrorists are not insurgents or freedom fighters, and when they are captured, they certainly are not prisoners of war. These killers are not members of an organized resistance movement carrying arms openly, and they have no distinctive identifier. The Geneva Conventions describe terrorists as beyond the pale.

The framers of the Geneva Conventions were parents and grandparents of the Greatest Generation, and held powerful positions throughout the darkest times of our world. Their words synthesize brutal, durable morality, properly understood, from actions within the ultimate bloody deluges of the 20th century. The people writing the conventions intended to isolate terrorist forces, provide them minimal protections, and allow their destruction with any overwhelming furies needed to crush their abominations.

Terrorists who earn degrees in physical or biological sciences will abandon the trivial killing of hundreds, turning instead to acts that will bring about the incalculable numbers of deaths made possible by 21st century technology. …

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