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Monday, May 04, 2009

Pro-Torture = Pro-Cowardice

This will be the second morning post in a row where I write about my process, so bear with me. I generally bookmark the articles I'll need the night before and -- as needed -- add notes. One of the notes I wrote last night was "Hinderaker, as always, is being a freakin' idiot." Only I didn't use "freakin'" -- I try to cut back on the expletives in my longer posts.

Hinderaker is John Hinderaker of the Power Line blog and his freakin' idiocy is looking at crimes of torture by a member of the United Arab Emirates' royal family as proof that the Bush administration didn't torture.

The current debate over "torture" -- the waterboarding of three high-level al Qaeda leaders in order to obtain information about threatened attacks -- is an example of public discourse at its worst. From Barack Obama on down, most of what has been said by critics of harsh interrogation has been dumb, disingenuous or both. Waterboarding is, as I've often said, a humane alternative to actual torture. It frightens (even when, as in the case of the three al Qaeda terrorists, they are told beforehand that it may feel like they're drowning, but they won't) but does no physical harm. None.

See? A freakin' idiot. First off, he's just plain wrong. Physicians for Human Rights tells us that of 112 deaths in US detention, 43 were homicide, with 3 resulting in charges of murder and 3 resulting in charges for voluntary manslaughter. 11 of those deaths involved "blunt trauma or asphyxiation." Hinderaker seems entirely ignorant of the fact that, since waterboarding is actually drowning someone (forget that "simulated" crap you hear in the media), you can waterboard someone to death -- easily. Calling it a "humane alternative to actual torture" suggests that John's either a gullible ass or a lying ass. Frankly, I don't think it makes much difference which is more accurate. He's an ass and that's as detailed as the description needs to be.

Second, he's basically saying, "Torture? I'll show you torture!" The UAE torturer in question -- Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan -- was brutal in his abuse. "Believing he was cheated in a business deal, the member of the United Arab Emirates ruling family was trying to extract a confession from an Afghan grain dealer," CNN reported. "With a private security officer assisting, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan is seen [in a video] stuffing sand in the Afghan’s mouth. As the grain dealer pleads and whimpers, he is beaten with a nailed board, burned in the genitals with a cigarette lighter, shocked with a cattle prod, and led to believe he would be shot. Salt is poured on his wounds."

"In the end, the victim can muster up only weak moans as an SUV is repeatedly driven over him." Surprisingly, the man survived.

Yeah, that's certainly torture. But how low is Hinderacker willing to set the bar here? This is basically the Hitler defense -- because someone, somewhere once did something much, much worse, what you're advocating is perfectly OK. In other words, Hitler killed millions, so if you fall short of that, you're automatically innocent. Logic it is not. "At least we're not running over detainees with an SUV" is no defense at all.

I'm not attacking Hinderacker alone; he's just my example. When I read about the UAE torture story, I knew someone would make exactly this argument. Hinderacker's was just the first I came across. This is what torture is doing to us -- we have to find some demented middle eastern sadist in order to have someone to compare ourselves favorably to. Bush's torture policies have made us a sick, sick culture. Not only do we have people defending torture, we have people saying we should do more of it -- completely without shame.

And why didn't we run over detainees with Jeep Cherokees? Why not? All of the defenses of torture would still apply. You've got your ticking timebombs and your massive terrorist attacks. If it takes running over one guy to save millions, the right wing argument goes that we have to park a truck on someone -- we really have no choice. Running people over with big freakin' SUVs and beating them with boards with nails in them is practically an American value. If Hinderacker is against it, then he's for the terrorists. At least, if he's at all interested in being consistent in his arguments.

And is waterboarding torture? Of course it is. In fact, a New York Times story out this weekend shows that even as the "harsh interrogations" were going on, the interrogators knew it was torture.

The proclamation that President George W. Bush issued on June 26, 2003, to mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture seemed innocuous, one of dozens of high-minded statements published and duly ignored each year.

The United States is "committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example," Mr. Bush declared, vowing to prosecute torture and to prevent "other cruel and unusual punishment."

But inside the Central Intelligence Agency, the statement set off alarms. The agency's top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, called the White House to complain. The statement by the president could unnerve the C.I.A. interrogators Mr. Bush had authorized to use brutal tactics on members of Al Qaeda, Mr. Muller said, raising fears that political winds could change and make them scapegoats.

Bush came out publicly against torture and the CIA needed to be reassured that he didn't really mean it. That's an odd reaction from a group of people who know they aren't torturing anyone, isn't it? If you didn't know better, you'd assume they thought they were torturing people. Weird.

This is the problem with all the "it's not torture" arguments -- they rely so heavily on ignorance and illogic that you have to assume those making them are either sick and soulless liars or suffering from a massive, untreated head wound. You either have to be lying or mentally incompetent to take these positions. And you either have to be a coward or gullible to buy them.

And cowardice is what it all comes down to. Fearmongering appeals to the fearful, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that those who fall for it are cowards. Before Bush's torture program came out, no one was arguing that we should start torturing people. It would've been unthinkable. But now that they've managed to scare themselves stupid with talk about "existential threats" and a global "Islamofascist" movement, they're all for it -- to the point where only the sickest and most brutal abuse is out of the question. If we charitably assume that they were never for torture before, we can also assume that they've now sold out their beliefs for safety. As I said, that's cowardice.

That's what this argument really boils down to -- it's not pro- or anti-torture, it's pro- or anti-cowardice. Are you willing to take the risks inherent in being a free people who respect the rule of law or are you more inclined to be a fair-weather patriot who believes in American values only so long as they're convenient? Are you willing to accept that bravery is required of a free people or are you going to embrace your inner coward?

I've made that choice. It wasn't really all that difficult. Apparently, those on the right are having a harder time with it.


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