The nomination of Gina Haspel by President Trump to become CIA Director has revived the debate over the activity of water boarding, known as enhanced interrogation. What are some of the commonsense guidelines available to those who wish to do things according to a moral code, but value the lives of our children more than virtue signaling or our reputation within left-wing European salons?
There can be no doubt that temporary discomfort inflicted upon a particular terrorist is justified when done to save lives. As reported in news accounts, water boarding did elicit credible and vital information that saved American lives. Because pain is not the equivalent of life itself, saving even one life takes precedence over the pain of a terrorist.
The Bible teaches that a moral society does not stand by while an innocent person is about to be killed. It is our moral duty to stop those intent on killing innocent people before a murder takes place. This includes forcing those in-the-know to divulge the information we need in order to stop impending murder, deaths.
Many on the left speak of the “dignity” owed the terrorist. However, the "dignity" of a would-be murderer or his accomplices is overridden by the need to save an innocent life. Saving life, according to Jewish tradition, outweighs lesser considerations. Nor is there anything dignified in our being dismembered by a jihadist. By stopping the terrorist before he murders we are also saving the would-be murderer from the grave sin of murder.
Normal people understand their primary obligation to first protect the lives and safety of those for whom they are personally responsible: one’s family, then one’s community and nation. But to child-like purists, the intellectually lazy, or those wishing to always be beyond criticism, anything harsh is unjustifiable no matter the catastrophic downside. Though they think their hands are antiseptic, they are not pure.
Worse are the trans-nationalists who long ago exhibited a psychological abnormality by refusing to prioritize the lives of their countrymen over the lives and sensibilities of our enemies.
Unlike what is happening in the Islamic and Palestinian world, we Americans do not torture for sheer barbaric enjoyment, or as a means of revenge, nor even as a way of frightening foes. We employ momentary and isolated acts of physical or psychological coercion for the exclusive purpose of eliciting information we are convinced will save lives, thousands of lives. These are important distinctions. Our enemy’s torture incapacitates and causes excruciating pain for the remainder of that person's life. Water boarding is far from that. It is momentarily frightening, but does not fall within the historic category of torture.
Beyond our duty to prioritize on behalf of innocent life over momentary pain, self-defense is a biblical and moral duty, necessary for the sustainability of any society. Individuals as well as nations must be able to defend themselves from aggressors, from those pursuing them. Self-defense is a right. We calibrate our interrogation to a level we feel needed to secure that self-defense.
Former President Obama disapproved of the technique and often moralized to us about doing that which “reflects our values and who we are as a nation.” He used to intone: “That’s not who we are.” Most often he meant we should sacrifice our basic needs and forfeit our rights to fulfill certain social and political agendas he considered more important than our right to self-protection, nationhood, or selfhood. Mr. Obama seemed to forget that protecting our women and children, as well as all innocent Americans, is one of our values and indeed constitutes “who we are.” In contrast to Hamas in Gaza, who routinely force their own women and children to act as shields to protect jihadist soldiers, we Americans do what needs to be done to protect our children and civilians.
There are many who enjoy the protection and safety provided by our armed services and police force, but can always be counted on to preen in moral superiority against the very ones who keep them safe. I sometimes wonder if they would have the same attitude if a known white supremacist was but moments away from bombing hundreds in a mosque or synagogue or black church.
Faux moralists and dilettantes notwithstanding, we have not become like the enemy; we remain in a category far above that preached and practiced by the jihadists. We should not allow our hands to be tied or needlessly sacrifice American lives so as to prove our worthiness. Those who unscrupulously compare the small things we occasionally do – so as to protect tens of thousands – to jihadists who relish and extol excruciating torture, as a matter of policy, are out of line and morally illegitimate.
The moral thing is not what makes us look moral but what is actually moral. Morality is what we ought to do. We ought and need to protect the American people. It is consistent with the principles of our Constitution.
Rabbi Aryeh Spero, a theologian, is author of “Push Back” and president of Caucus for America.