Posted December 16, 2014on:
For a simpleton such as myself, the release of the long-awaited Senate Report on the CIA’s use of torture has been singularly unsatisfying. The report, authorized by a 14-1 vote of the Intelligence Committee, was limited to nothing more than a review of the CIA’s own “traffic” consisting of internal documents and email among the CIA’s own officers.
The report wasn’t exhaustive. It wasn’t all-encompassing. It wasn’t an in-depth investigation with sworn testimony by those in decision-making roles. It was only a recapitulation of what the CIA was saying to itself taken from contemporaneous communication among CIA functionaries. From the six million pages of raw material a six thousand page report was generated and from that a six hundred page executive summary was spawned.
This Himalayan mountain of material has produced the same-old tired cacophony of James Bond/Jack Bauer’esqe excuses for what took place in secret prisons around the globe. I’ve learned nothing and I bet you haven’t either.
At the end of the day, this entire debate is simply about “values”. For most of us that debate was settled by the time we were in the second grade. Let me explain.
The following is an exercise I have used with thousands of leadership students in order to drill down on the concept of values. After taking a good long look at the photo above, think about and then answer the following questions.
If you were taking a hike and saw that creature fifteen yards in front of you would you go out of your way to avoid it?
If given the opportunity, would you forego the opportunity to touch, hold, and pet that creature?
Would you forbid your son or daughter from keeping that creature as a household pet?
Would you kill that creature if you saw it ready to strike a family member or friend?
Likewise, would you kill that creature if you saw it ready to strike an unsuspecting unknown stranger?
Finally, would you capture that creature, place it in captivity, and systematically torture it to death?
I’m assuming your answers to the first five questions were yes and the answer to the sixth question was no. In answer to the “why” question occasionally I got random answers like the sanctity of life, but resoundingly in 99% of the instances, the answer was, “Torture isn’t right. I don’t know why other than it isn’t right. It doesn’t feel right. It wouldn’t be right. I wouldn’t do it.”
If no one has ever defined a “value” in its simplest form for you — that is what a value is. It is something so inextricably inculcated within you it becomes your reflexive response to right and wrong. If you want to alleviate the need for reading hundreds of leadership books detailing values, this is all you need to remember: Values are subjectively formed and held, but objectively judged.
Values are as individually personalized as fingerprints. For most of us, values are enduring moralistic guideposts and life-long tillers of one‘s journey. For an unfortunate few, values are situational. A cautionary note here — people with situational values are the most dangerous people you will ever meet.
Individuals cursed with situational values are like feral dogs. They attract others, who like themselves, are not plagued with the good character afforded those with intact value systems. Like savagely feral animals, the greatest motivator of those with situational values is fear — pure, old, unadulterated, garden-variety f.e.a.r.
A “listen for” when tracking these feral dogs is when you hear something like this: “I’ll do whatever it takes,” or “Winning is everything,” or “The end justifies the means.” When you hear these vulgar types of pronouncements, you are in the presence of someone who is afraid — afraid of losing, afraid of being found lacking, afraid of his/her insecurities.
The fear of those with situational values is what I have heard in the sibilant voices defending torture. You can hear the truth by the euphemisms they have to use to even discuss the topic. Waterboarding became “enhanced interrogation”. Being punched, kicked, and dragged naked down hallways became “rough takedowns”. Anal rape became “rectal rehydration”.
The fear of being held accountable is what has produced the tortured logic of trying to draw a moral equivalence between what the terrorists do and what we do. The argument goes, as long as al-Qaeda’s tactics are worse than ours, nothing we do is morally unjustified. Unpacking that argument is so dastardly pathetic as to be laughable since it places the high watermark of our own morality at the whim and circumstance of al-Qaeda tactics.
The bastardized logic of this type of argument is thus: If I approach a little old lady on the street, knock her down and take her purse, I can escape accountability by merely telling a judge that I didn’t do anything wrong since it would have been much worse had I hit her over the head with a lead pipe and then used her keys to rob her house.
The drum major in this parade of fear is Dick Cheney. He defends torture without so much as a second doubt by saying, “I would do it again in a minute.” We might remember Dick Cheney was also the drum major for lying us into a war in Iraq, was the drum major for a non-existent Iraqi nuclear program, and became Vice President by the immaculate elimination of all others while he was in charge of vetting potential VP candidates.
There is only one question bedevilling me in this whole affair. Who was the advocate and who approved a $180,000,000.00 secret contract for two guys who had no experience in interrogation, who didn’t speak the language, and had no Middle Eastern cultural training whatsoever? The answer to that question is the threshold that will answer almost all of the other questions about this whole affair.
There’s one bright spot in this sorry and shameful chapter of our history. From here on every presidential or vice presidential candidate will be asked the simple question: Will you torture?
The other bright spot is this: No matter how our elected leaders may dissemble and equivocate, just like pornography, we know torture when we see it. Thankfully our values are so ingrained, no matter how convoluted the explanation, when we see torture, we know it is wrong and recoil at its sight. Hopefully, we will never again elect anyone who has trouble making that distinction.
Have a great Tuesday and take this conversation in any direction you might like.
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