If you didn’t see the movie, “A Few Good Men,” you should. It is a great movie.
But there is a scene in the movie between Jack Nicholson who plays a crusty old Marine officer who is on the stand in a trial being vigorously questioned by Tom Cruise, who plays a military lawyer.
Cruise’s character, frustrated by Nicholson’s refusal to fully answer a question yells at him, “I WANT THE TRUTH!”
Nicholson’s character shoots back angrily, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Then he goes on to say:
“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? ... I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it.”
That scene is what comes to mind when I think about the CIA Torture Report that was just released. The tactics our own government operatives used to protect us were shocking and embarrassing, and some of them are too ugly to even mention in this piece. Some of the other methods included Interrogations that lasted for days on end, detainees forced to stand on broken legs, or go 180 hours in a row without sleep, a prison so cold, one suspect essentially froze to death. There was of course waterboarding. And there was being locked in painful positions for long periods of time. And more was in there to say the least.
It is ugly stuff. And it is the stuff that most of us would prefer not to even know about, as Jack Nicholson’s character says in that iconic scene. It is easy for us to shake our heads now when confronted with these reports, when it is put out in the open and in our face. But at the same time, we have to all be honest and say, in the battle to stop people from doing awfully bad things to us, on our soil, or anywhere in the world, do we really want to say there are limits to how we get the necessary information to keep someone from blowing us up or pulling off another 9-11? Do we want the truth? Or do we just prefer these CIA people and our military do what they have to do in the dark and not tell us the dirty details?
I think for most people it is exactly that. We know in our hearts that in the fight against some pretty ugly people out there, like ISIS for example, who as a matter of routine, beheads Americans on video, that to stop them will require some non-gentlemanly actions. I am by no means saying I am for torture as a regular means of fighting terrorism. We do have to have some guidelines, some limits on what we do in this fight.
But I for one am not going to pretend that what we do will always be pretty or something to write home about. There are people determined to kill us, to destroy our way of life. Stopping that threat is not easy and I accept sometimes our soldiers and our CIA are doing things most of us would rather sleep not knowing about.
So yeah, Nicholson’s character is right and the release of this report proves it. Most of us can’t handle the truth. Not when it comes to what goes on to keep us safe at night.