Forever at Square One With Torture Defenders

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Last week Andy McCarthy prompted the latest change in my understanding in how the right thinks about torture. Initially I believed they were unwilling to accept their leaders were engaging in it, and that if it turned out they were they would recoil as sharply as the rest of us. That changed when I read a Los Angeles Times piece by Jonah Goldberg that basically stipulated we tortured but was fine with it anyway. It may have been this one, where he writes:

the meatier part of the argument is in the more nuanced area of "coercive measures," "stress positions" and what one unnamed official once described to the Wall Street Journal as "a little bit of smacky-face." [Since elaborated as "wrapp[ing] a collar around [a detainee’s] neck and smash[ing] him over and over against a wall."]…The way [Andrew] Sullivan and those who agree with him see it, torture is torture is torture — and torture is always wrong, even when defined as intimidation and "smacky-face." "Not in my name" is their rallying cry, often with the sort of self-righteousness that suggests that those who disagree must admire cruelty.

Reading that, it became clear that Bush’s supporters were willing to uncritically accept the administration’s positions. Techniques were given cute euphemisms (see also) and those who objected to it on principle were dismissed as moral divas. Moreover, their reflexive support meant ignoring torture’s history. Engaging in practices with a gruesome past or lifting terminology from the Gestapo was never examined.

Now that we have some results they won’t even look at it from the most cold, calculating realpolitik perspective: Does it actually work? From a policy and intelligence standpoint is it a sound, sustainable program? Shouldn’t it give them pause that Abu Zubaydah gave up actionable intelligence under humane interrogation and worthless God-make-it-stop nonsense when waterboarded? Shouldn’t the extravagant lie that torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed helped prevent an attack factor into their thinking?

From the very beginning there has been a resolute, adamant insistence on ignoring facts. It has felt impossible to advance any kind of argument – to ask about investigations or prosecutions, to figure out how best to handle the cases of those we have tortured, to address our stance towards the rest of the world – when torture apologists appear entirely invested in the wholesale denial of reality. McCarthy’s contribution to the genre came as he referred to David Petraeus’ admission we have violated the Geneva Conventions:

With due respect to Gen. Petraeus, this is just vapid. To begin with, he doesn’t identify any provision of the Geneva Conventions that we have actually violated — he just repeats the standard talking-point of his current commander-in-chief that we took "steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions" during those bad old Bush days. What steps is he talking about? How about naming one?

Gladly: Common Article 3. The administration wanted to use tactics employed by the Soviet KGB – that the US characterized as torture – against detainees at Guantánamo. It engaged in transparently dishonest word games to violate the article’s prohibition against "cruel treatment and torture." The Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners were entitled to Geneva protections and that the administration had violated their rights under it. In a further show of bad faith Bush tried to get Congress to rewrite the Geneva Conventions to accommodate the violations and later issued (pdf) an executive order attempting to do the same.

I was able to find all those links within minutes. This was not a strenuous exercise. For torture apologists to defiantly demand proof that is so easily available can only mean that they are willfully ignorant of what has been going on. Their refusal to even acknowledge new developments makes it nearly impossible to engage their arguments or to give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s as though their mental state is fixed at September 12th: in the sense of shock and grief, along with a feeling of blind vengeance and a desire to lash out first and think about it later. There was no initial gathering of wits when that first wave passed, no desire to look at the history of torture in order to see whose company it would put us in or if it had been generally helpful, no willingness to look at the results to see if it could be justified on even a practical level, no admission that rulings have unambiguously repudiated it – nothing. They are where they have been from the very beginning: In favor of torture come hell or high water, obstinately defending it in the face of the vast accumulated evidence against it. And that, Mr. Goldberg, is indeed the outlook of one who admires cruelty.

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