*Those who advocate for maintaining torture as an option for interrogation often pose the following scenario: what if lives are at stake and the only way to obtain pertinent information is through torture?
Many of these advocates lean conservative and therefore they also often argue against public surveillance programs. In summary: government is too powerful when officials want to be able to monitor activity in public spaces; but contrarily government authority is not strong enough because it is being hampered by its inability to employ whatever methods necessary to protect American life.
These two positions are plainly incompatible.
On the one hand safeguarding American life is paramount and any and all means should be employed to that end. On the other hand the government needs to be controlled. The actions in both of these cases could be something considered un-American. Monitoring public spaces might hinder free expression and thereby short circuit the First Amendment. Torture by definition is in violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. So someone afraid of the increasing authority of government should be weary of both of these developments. Conservatives are frequently only upset at one of them though.
There are two key differences though. One involves their legality, the other involves their usefulness.
It can be argued that cameras everywhere would cause restrictive changes in behavior. But the glut of reality show programming proves otherwise. Young people tend to act unwisely with thoughts of only their own self interest whether their actions are being recorded or not. And in fact cameras might cause older people to become less guarded in their thoughts and actions as well.
None of that speaks to the legality of public cameras of course. The critical thing to keep in mind is that the presence of cameras might cause people to change behavior. But the cameras do not force people to restrict their actions and/or speech. On the contrary torture cannot be seen as anything but cruel and unusual. Some methods of torture might be more or less cruel and unusual than others but all of them fit the description. Torture by its very nature violates the Eight Amendment.
The second difference is their usefulness. Under specific circumstances both methods can yield positive results. But the program of monitoring public spaces can make torture unnecessary. Last week the Boston Marathon Bomber suspect was apprehended in part because of the public monitoring system. A public monitoring system gives the government a plethora of information from multiple areas whereas torture yields limited information of questionable quality.
One of the things that is missing in this country is an honest public discourse. Conservatives contribute to this dishonesty by neglecting to argue against torture while arguing vehemently against public cameras. Furthermore an honest look at the situation would reveal that one of these is far more useful than the other.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected].