The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture subsequent to 9/11 and the uproar over Jonathan Gruber’s remarks about the necessity of subterfuge to pass the affordable care act, remind us there are people who believe an end may justify the means.
Gruber’s remarks expose the use of subterfuge to subvert the political process. He admits, if it were known how the act would affect most people, the legislation would have never passed. He concedes the law was written in a “tortured way” to hide tax increases and other defects.
Abraham Lincoln famously stated, “You may fool all the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all the time.” Unfortunately, many politicians believe they can fool all the people all the time. There are politicians—liberal, conservative, independent, of all stripe—who utilize misinformation, innuendo and fear to win votes and pass legislation. They use taxpayer money to pay “experts” and “learned people” to provide support for their causes. They believe the means they employ are justified by the outcome they seek: sometimes public policy; other times filling their own coffers.
The Senate report on enhanced interrogation techniques forces a national debate about our beliefs and convictions. Pricking our conscience, it occasions us to examine whether the end justifies the means. It makes us focus on the kind of people we believe we are and the kind of values we will pass to further generations. However, a lack of context undermines the effectiveness and calls in to doubt the intent of the report.
To be relevant, any examination of an action must include the perspective under which the action was taken. To not do so, leaves out the precipitating cause and impedes a discussion as to what action should be taken in a similar circumstance.
The enhanced interrogation techniques as described in the senate committee report were in response to the attacks of 9/11. When viewed in the light of what occurred, it is understandable why good people permitted their use.
At the time, there was an expectation of further attacks. Fear ruled the country: airports, train and bus stations were patrolled by armed soldiers and it took courage to attend a public event. Bolstered by reports of anthrax filled envelopes, we were horrified at the concept of an imminent biological attack.
Our country’s leaders shouldered a grave and heavy responsibility for protecting the people they served. The president was soundly criticized for lacking the covert intelligence that could have thwarted the attack. From both sides of aisle, members of congress called for an increase in obtaining operational information.
The people who were interrogated were not combatants fighting on a field of battle. They were evil men who conceived and instituted a plan designed to purposefully kill or maim innocent people. Their involvement and guilt was beyond question; as was a certainty they possessed information that could prevent further attacks.
No, the end does not justify the means. To believe so is to head down the slippery slope where the benefits of “outcomes” are exaggerated and “means” become more appalling. This understanding must apply to all circumstances: enhanced interrogation, as well as, political manipulation. It is intellectually dishonest and hypocritical, to point your finger at one but because you agree with the outcome, to accept the other.
Enhanced interrogation techniques in the aftermath of an attack that killed over 3,000 people and the use of subterfuge and lies to insure the passage of legislation. Both were means to an end: one to derail an attack and the other to pass legislation that otherwise would not have done so. When viewed in context, the report on enhanced interrogation techniques will give rise to a moral debate on whether we should sacrifice beliefs and values to prevent a deadly attack. While the other—purposefully misleading the people to achieve a political end—if left unchecked, will eventually lead to the demise of our democratic institutions.