Unrepentant ex-Vice President and founder of the social media website for gun lovers, Faceshoot, Dick Cheney, armed with a heart transplant and his five deferments from the Vietnam war, emerged from under his rock in Wyoming to laud the torture (oops, “enhanced interrogation”) program he helped bring into being during those lovely days of the Bush administration.* Touting his book and snarling at interviewers who suggested that “enhanced interrogation” was, in fact, torture and not only legally and morally wrong, but ineffective, the Dick shot back (verbally this time) at his detractors that much useful information had been obtained that foiled terrorist plots and saved many American lives. Cheney did not provide evidence or specifics and could not be forced to disclose any confirming evidence because he has a deferment from being waterboarded.
But torture can make some strange bedfellows. Here’s atheist/neuroscientist Sam Harris** on the subject:
“Imagine that a known terrorist has planted a bomb in the heart of a nearby city. He now sits in your custody. Rather than conceal his guilt, he gloats about the forthcoming explosion and the magnitude of human suffering it will cause. Given this state of affairs–in particular, given that there is still time to prevent an imminent atrocity–it seems that subjecting this unpleasant fellow to torture may be justifiable. For those who make it their business to debate the ethics of torture this is known as the ‘ticking-bomb’ case.”
He comes down on the Cheney side: Get out the battery and those electrodes.
But wait a minute here. I keep hearing this “ticking bomb” case—and it seems there is something that really bugs me about it. Look again at Harris’ first word—Imagine. It starts to go wrong right there. If you have to imagine that the “known terrorist” has planted a bomb, then you don’t really know that he has done so, or that the bomb actually exists. So somebody like Harris, a guy who has been very critical of things people believe (imagine), like gods, ironically joins the other side of the epistemological divide on this one. If Harris applied a rationalist’s reasoning he would first need to know if the bomb exists. But the only way he could know that is if he knew where it exists. If he knew where, he wouldn’t need to torture the “known terrorist” (let’s call him Mustafa Mophuqa to personalize him a little bit) to find out where it is and it therefore really exists.
So, since Mr. Harris wants us to imagine, let’s do just that.
An Enhanced Interrogation Transcript
Scene: An un-numbered room in basement of the Cheney Federal Inquisitional Building in Washington, D.C. Mustafa Mophuqa (MM) is strapped to a chair, blinding light in his face. He can barely make out the face of his interrogator, Homeland Security Agent Frank Hairyones (FH). The alleged (imagined) bomb is ticking, so Frank wastes no time.
FH: So, where’s the bomb, Mophuqa? We know you are out to kill a lot of innocent Americans who are out shopping to prove our American way of life is best.
MM: What bomb?
FH: . You’re not going to make this easy on yourself are you? We know you hate our freedom.
MM: Hey, this isn’t so bad. You try crapping in a cold, dark cave in Afghanistan for three years.
FH: So, where’s the bomb, Mophuqa? We’ve got drones and we know where your family lives.
MM: What bomb? Where is this bomb of which you speak?
FH: That’s what we want to know, you Islamo-terrorist creep. Where is it?
MM: Where’s what?
FH: Don’t try that Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine with me, Hadji Baba.
MM: I know you, agent Hairyones; I know that you are an atheist. Do not try to trick me with your Abbott and Costello words. Allah is on First. All glory be to his name.
FH: We know that bomb is ticking, Mophuqa. We know you want to kill millions of innocent people, so we may have to use enhanced interrogation
MM: You mean torture.
FH: The United States of America does not torture. It applies enhanced interrogation. You say “torture” again and I’ll pull out your fingernails.
MM: Does enhance interrogation hurt less than torture? Inshallah.
FH: If you don’t confess you’re gonna find out, Mophuqa. I may have to bring Cheney in here, to begin the enhanced interrogation.
MM: You mean Dick? The vice president? I have always admired the Dick; I’ve shot some of my friends in the face, too.
FH: No, he’s busy having another heart attack. His daughter, Liz Cheney.
MM: No, please, no Liz Cheney, I beg you. I cannot have an infidel woman attaching electrodes to my genitals. I am a Muslim man. It would be the greatest insult, the greatest dishonor. No, no Liz Cheney. Please. Inshallah.
FH: So you’re ready to talk then?
MM: Talk about what?
FH: The bomb. The fucking bomb! You had better tell us or get over your Muslim hang-ups about women.
MM: In that case is Angelina Jolie available?
FH: Only if you apply for adoption, asshole! Listen wiseass, our patience is at an end. I’m calling Liz . . .
MM: Okay, okay, white boy. I will tell you where is the bomb.
FH: I don’t believe that.
MM: I don’t believe you don’t believe that! After all this? I mean it. You have my cell phone don’t you.
FH: Ya. Right here.
MM: OK first turn on the phone.
FH: [Frank starts to turn on the phone, then stops] Hold on, Mophuqa, you nearly had me there—I turn on this phone and it detonates the bomb. Nice try.
MM: No, no, Agent Hairyones. Haven’t we established any trust here? You have to turn on the phone to send the code to disable the bomb.
[Frank relents and turns on the phone]
FH: Now what? What’s the number?
MM: There is no specific number. You have to choose. It’s, how you say, random. You have to choose by pushing the buttons saying: “Eenie, meenie, miney mo, catch a Nig . . .”
FH: [quickly interrupting] We can’t say that! It’s racist. It uses the “N” word.
MM: Hey, that’s your problem, whitey. Bring in rapper to do the N word, or Obama, I always wanted to meet Obama. He’s a secret Muslim, you know.
FH: You do it, goddammit, [handing the phone to Mophuqa who begins, ““Eenie, meenie, miney . . .”] Stop! Stop! How do I know you aren’t sending a code to detonate the bomb?
MM: What bomb? I’m calling for a pizza. I don’t know about you but I am feeling a bit peckish.
FH: You son-of-a-bitch lying terrorist! You’re not telling the truth. Gimme that fucking phone! [Yanking he phone from Mophuqa’s hands.]
MM: You’re the guy who imagined there is a bomb, Frank. Now you need to imagine that I’m telling the truth. That’s the way torture works, Frank; we’ll say anything to make it stop, that’s the only truth. Oh, and when you get through to Pizza Hut would you ask them if they can do extra pepperoni . . .?
© 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 5.15.2014)