How is some tired and frightened American officer supposed to make head or tail of this sophistry, late at night in some bleak Iraqi jail? How is he supposed to calibrate the pain that comes from an organ failure or death? It is no wonder, with orders like that coming from the top, that the troopers misbehaved so tragically in Abu Ghraib. They failed to see any moral difference between waterboarding their suspects and putting hoods over their heads. They failed to see any moral difference between waterboarding them and terrifying them with alsatian dogs or attaching electrodes to their genitals. They failed to see any moral difference, that is, because there isn’t any moral difference.
That is the real disaster of the waterboarding policy — that we are left with the impression that the entire US military are skidding their heels on the slippery slope towards barbarism. And that is emphatically not the case. Yesterday at the Cenotaph we remembered the sacrifice of men and women not just in two world wars, but also in Iraq and Afghanistan. The purpose of these conflicts is not so much to defeat “the enemy”, but to defend things we believe to be inalienable goods — freedom, democracy and, above all, the rule of law.
I believe that, of all nations, America still best upholds and guarantees those things. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the waterboarding disaster, or the evils of Abu Ghraib, have set up some kind of moral equivalence between America and – say – the murderous Taliban regime, let alone Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If you want to appreciate the difference, remember that the perpetrators of Abu Ghraib were court-martialled, and we know about US interrogation techniques because of rules on freedom of information. But if your end is the spread of freedom and the rule of law, you cannot hope to achieve that end by means that are patently vile and illegal.
Keith Olberman interviews Jonathan Turley on the Mayor's article: