I agree with the notion that torture is unambiguously immoral, therefore it's no more appropriate to debate whether it's an effective interrogation technique than it is to debate whether slavery is an effective economic system. But those of us who feel this way are a dirty-hippie minority of Americans; to our right, the torture debate we're having focuses to a disturbing degree on effectiveness. Even a majority of moderate and conservative Democrats (53%) think CIA torture provided intelligence that prevented terror attacks, and nearly all of those people (48%) think torture was therefore justified, according to a new Pew poll.
But the attacks we've been facing in the West these days simply aren't hatched in melodramatic meetings of international terrorists who then send the operatives off on transcontinental jets so they can execute elaborate plans for mayhem. What we're seeing instead are mostly solo attacks -- the Boston Marathon bombing was a two-man job -- that don't involve terrorist cells or centralized brain trusts. Inspiration comes from terror groups overseas via the Internet, but there aren't conspirators per se -- angry locals just seem to answer the online call, working on their own.
In the case of Man Haron Monis, the hostage-taker in Sydney, it's not clear whether there was any particular call for terrorist activity that he was answering or whether this was just the latest in a series of sociopathic acts on his part, some of them of a jihadist nature, others allegedly just garden-variety violent criminality, and all of them none of them part of a bigger conspiracy, as far as we can tell.
Monis was charged in 2013 as an accessory before and after the fact to his ex-wife's brutal murder; Noleen Hayson Pal was stabbed and set on fire. He was also charged in 2002 for sexual assault. Some reports say he is facing up to 40 sexual and indecent assault charges....He arrived in Australia in 1996 as a political refugee from Iran, and since the he's set himself up as a jackleg preacher -- a phony "sheikh" and "ayatollah." The sexual assault charges involve a victim who sought him out in this capacity:
Monis previously achieved minor infamy in Australia for sending letters to the families of soldiers who had died fighting in Afghanistan, telling the families that their loved ones were murderers. He sent a similar letter to the family of an Australian trade official killed in a Jakarta hotel bombing.
His alleged victim, who was 27 at the time, allegedly saw an advertisement for "Spiritual Consultation" in a local newspaper and contacted Monis. He told her he was an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic and advised her to visit his clinic.Since at least 2007, when he began sending those hate-filled letters, he's been known to Australian Muslims as a fraud and an unstable individual; see the collection of story excerpts here, at The American Muslim.
The woman visited the clinic twice within a week. On the first occasion it will be alleged that Monis indecently assaulted her. A week later he is alleged to have indecently and sexually assaulted her. "The assaults are alleged to have been undertaken under the guise of a spiritual healing technique, and the man warned the woman not to tell anyone about them," police said in a statement.
The point is, he's a bad guy, and he's been on the radar of Australian authorities for a while -- and yet there's no sign that he engaged in a deep, subterranean conspiracy that intelligence services need to get to the bottom of, any more than he did when he allegedly raped a spiritual advisee, or when he and his girlfriend allegedly plotted the murder of his wife. We may find deeper ties to organized groups, admittedly -- but that hasn't been happening in the case of other recent "lone wolf" attacks.
And yet we're reopening the debate on torture. Already, Fox's Elisabeth Hasselbeck is linking this attack to the torture report:
"Meanwhile, the actual individuals here at home who have been looking into and trying to stop attacks like this, and perhaps future hostage situations -- we are still at war, indeed, with ISIS and terrorism -- are the CIA," she explained. "And have been painted as the bad guys at home."But, morality aside, even if torture were effective, it wouldn't stop attacks like this. This is DIY terrorism.
The torture of the Bush years was morally abhorrent and provided evidence of dubious reliability. Both of those things are still true of torture -- but now torture (even as described by its biggest cheerleaders) doesn't even fit the plots we're facing. Yet we'll probably do it again someday.