Secret Prisons and other Shady Stuff

“Indeed, it has been said that Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried.” – Winston Churchhill

There has been a lot of talk recently concerning the CIA and their interrogation techniques with Terrorism suspects. Specifically, the talk has centered around “secret prisons” in Europe and the fact that the UN can’t go and investigate the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, I suggest that the debate is centering around the wrong tennants. Most of the debate has centered around whether we have been torturing prisoners. I don’t want to minimize the evils of torture. We obviously don’t want to use torture because it undermines our message to dictatorships and it increases the chance that Americans will be tortured when they are captured.

However, I think a great deal of the debate has missed a very key issue. Why is the CIA allegedly using prisons in Europe and the Middle East? Why are they keeping prisoners at Guantanamo? Although they are very careful to stress that they do not torture prisoners, they say these prisons are needed for “innovative” interrogation techniques. If these prisoners were kept on US soil we wouldn’t be able to question them this way. (Forget the fact that it would be extremely bad if they were to escape from a US prison) This presents a key flaw in the way the international system of laws works. Why is it ok for us to do something overseas that would be illegal if done on our shores? Either we should do it or we shouldn’t – and sending them overseas to do what we wouldn’t do at home is just a severe case of hypocrisy.

If you argue that we need to interrogate them in different ways because they are terrorists, then that is fine. The laws in the US should be ammended so that we can interrogate them in this way no matter where in the world they are being interrogated. To say, we must interrogate them this way and therefore will send them to a place where we can do it, doesn’t look very good for our already shoddy public image. It’s just an exploitation of a technicality.

On a simplified level, I can illustrate it via a story I was recently telling my wife. When I was young – say less than 10 – my parents would sometimes punish me by saying I couldn’t play Nintendo. Then I would proceed to play with my Sega. Afterall, they said I couldn’t play Nintendo, they didn’t forbid me from playing video games. Of course, that excuse only worked the first time. After that, they were sure to say, “no video games” or “no Nintendo, Genesis, Game Boy, or anything else electronic.” So much for feeling so slick. And that’s what the US is doing!

That is the most important part of the debate to me. But, the other part is also very important. We need to decide as an American people what we are going to tolerate. How much of our purity are we willing to give up in the name of our protection? Shall we be obsessed with being blameless and therefore possibly allow more terrorist attacks to take place? Should we be tough on those we catch and, therefore, forfeit some of our ability to call on change from those who torture their prisoners? We can’t have it both ways.

Americans love to complain: if we are too soft and something happens there will be outcries for not having tried hard enough. If we’re hard on them and we lose face, people complain. There will always be complaints because it’s impossible to please everyone. What the lawmakers need to do is ignore the polls and just decide. No backpedaling – no changing your mind when it’s no longer unpopular. We’re talking about really serious stuff here! I mean, schools and taxes are important, but what we do with enemy combatants has very serious reprocussions around the world.