The Common Good
August 2009

Was it Torture, or Value-Added Questioning?

by Ed Spivey Jr. | August 2009

With all the mixed signals we’ve been getting these days about the use of torture, it’s hard to know what to believe.

With all the mixed signals we’ve been getting these days about the use of torture, it’s hard to know what to believe. I’ve always felt that torture was wrong, and that we shouldn’t do it except under extreme circumstances, such as to force producers of the Fox TV show 24 to stop glorifying it. (We could make them watch episodes of The Partridge Family over and over until they promise that Jack Bauer will use more acceptable interrogation methods, like maybe tickling.) But I’m starting to wonder if I’ve rushed to judgment.

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Former—and for that, we are grateful—Vice President Dick Cheney insists that torture has saved countless American lives. (But then he’s the guy who said we’d be greeted as libertarians in Iraq—or was it librarians?—and he was wrong about that.)

When discussing torture, Cheney prefers to use the term “enhanced interrogation,” which sounds like a beneficial thing. “Interrogation Plus” might be another term, or “Value-Added Questioning,” and then afterward you get free air miles, or cash back. (“You’ve been very cooperative, possible terrorist. Now here’s a coupon for Ruby Tuesday.”)

So I’m left with the question: Is it a human rights issue or just a marketing challenge?

One man bravely attempting to provide an answer is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Dixie), who recently said in a hearing, “Let’s have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work.”

It’s hard to argue with that. After all, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic Church got lots of useful confessions using Enhanced Stretching on the rack. Early American Protestants successfully rid their parishes of witches with an early form of waterboarding that they called “Baptism Plus.”

With these helpful historical precedents, it all sounds pretty reasonable to me. In fact, without the use of these proven techniques, terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad might never have revealed the name of the secret group planning to destroy our nation. Unfortunately, when SWAT teams reached AIG’s hideout, it was too late.

Point is, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and other defenders of torture may be saying something that Americans should hear. Specifically, that insufferable rich white guys who avoided military service and have a mixed history with guns, illegal drugs, and, for that matter, marriage, should go easy on the carbs.

AND SPEAKING OF aging crack-pots, expert North Korea watchers have reported that Kim Jong Il ’s self-anointed title of “President For Life” may not be as enduring as it implies. With apologies for the obvious pun on his third name, Kim is very Il0, and his successor has reportedly already been chosen. Replacing the Dear Leader—or, as most North Koreans call their beloved president, “Punkin’”—will be his third son, Kim Jong Un, a 25-year-old educated at a Swiss boarding school where he has been taking classes in Famine Management and Totalitarian Poetry. (“Ready. Aim. Fire.”) His favorite sports include Extreme Stalinism and Placing of Scorpions in the Beloved Roommate’s Bed, Hah, Hah.

Although Kim Jong Un reportedly speaks three languages and has benefited from Switzerland’s liberal traditions, such as hiding money for former AIG executives, it is doubtful whether his leadership will change the fundamental direction of his country, which is to say, backward. North Korea has no agriculture or industry to speak of—unless you count counterfeiting and kidnapping (would that be industrial or agricultural?)—and about the only things it manufactures are medium-range rockets, which it exports one at a time over the Sea of Japan. To be fair, North Korea claims these missiles are part of their new innovative satellite program that will create a communication system on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. At least, that’s where they all end up. (Don’t mock. People also doubted that the Dear Leader’s jumbo-framed glasses would be an international fashion hit. Where do you think Harry Potter got the idea?)

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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