Tom Patterson: Humanitarians should love waterboarding

I have a serious question about the CIA/ torture controversy that is raging now: what’s so bad about waterboarding?

There seems to be a lot of cheap moral preening going on here. “The America I know doesn’t do this kind of thing” and “it’s not right to hurt someone just to get information” are moralizing by cliché.

Here’s a more serious-thought question. If you could throw one person in front of a bus to save 20 from being killed, would you do it? For two? If the people being saved were old? That gets more complicated, but it’s the kind of question that obviously applies to coercive techniques.

Like many real-life situations, sometimes you have to embrace undesirable behavior for the even greater good. In skilled hands, the information obtained from coercion can be highly valuable in saving potentially thousands of lives.

If you wanted to design the most humane, defensible technique for obtaining intelligence from bad guys, what would it be? I think we could all go for something that doesn’t do actual physical damage, not something that permanently restricts the subject from ever being able to lift their hands over their head, like John McCain.

The ideal technique would be something that is intensely distressing for a short period of time, but after which the subject quickly returns to normal. Like, say, waterboarding, basically the ideal device for getting information without doing real harm.

It would be nice if all human beings were fundamentally decent, loved liberty and believed in live-and-let-live. Much as Americans would like to believe otherwise, that’s not the world we live in.

We would be foolish to abstain from reasonable measures to protect ourselves. Waterboarding should be lauded by humanitarians as the most compassionate method for doing just that.

Tom Patterson

Editor’s note: Mr. Patterson writes a blog on the Independent’s website at

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