When the Question is More Important than the Answer

There are times where I find myself wondering how so many people in a society could collectively be asking the wrong questions. How is it possible for such a vast majority to so completely miss the point? This occurrence used to be rare, but is now becoming more common place. I realize the world is indeed a complicated place, and we are never going to have it all figured out. Yet there has to be a point where at least someone in the crowd notices we have been looking at a situation all wrong…right?

In 2003, when the Torture Memos were released, I found myself engulfed in heated discussions about the use of torture. Everyone around me was talking about this so-called ticking time-bomb scenario wherein Kiefer Sutherland magically appeared, waterboarded some supposed terrorist, and saved America from imminent attack. I was dumbfounded by the realization that even those whom I would have tagged as the most peaceful were somehow in favor of torture. Of course, only if the person was a terrorist. This distinction somehow shifts the reality of legality and morality. One should not torture a serial killer, but feel free to torture someone who is a distant relative of a person who potentially once worked as a driver for a suspected terrorist. Yes, this seems reasonable.

Throughout the Bush Administration’s dealings with creating policy in relation to what they deemed “enhanced interrogation techniques” but which I will be more honest about and refer to as “torture policies”, the discussion centered on what we “could” do, legally. John Yoo’s task was to spell out the legality of each torture technique. Could we make prisoners stand for 8 hours? Could we waterboard them? Could we deprive them of sleep? Could we leave them in a freezing room with no heat and no clothes? Where was the legal line of how far we could go in our war against terrorism.

This same mindset is at play with the new Defense Bill, which was passed this week (ironically on the anniversary of the Bill of Rights). Everyone seems to be upset about indefinite detention as it relates to American citizens. I am not minimizing this anger, and in fact agree with the sentiment that no US citizen should be subject to indefinite detention. Yet, here is where I step outside of this collective anger. Why are we only concerned that US citizens are not indefinitely detained? Why is the Obama Administration willing to withdraw their veto threat now that we're only impinging on the human rights of non-US citizens? Why are our rights more important?

As the "War on Terror" has unfolded in the US and around the world, citizens and government officials alike have continually asked the question of what we can do to fight terrorism. This is arguably the completely wrong question. Instead, we ought to be asking ourselves what we should do as members of the global community to minimize violence and promote peace. If Americans want to be a moral leader in the world, we need to start looking beyond what we legally can do and focus more on what we morally should do. Even if we are not currently that moral leader, shouldn't we at least aspire to be?

Follow Corrie on Twitter @Corrie_Hulse

Barack Obama, Torture