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Contentions

Not. For. Torture.

If you’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog over the past 48 hours you’re forgiven for thinking I am the pro-torture spokesperson for American conservatism. Andrew has referred to me directly and indirectly as a defender of torture in no less than four blog posts since Friday.

I have nothing to prove to a journalist who uses the same vocabulary of moral cataclysm to cover Abu Ghraib and Sarah Palin’s baby bump. However, his readership being as large as it is, I am compelled to declare myself for the public record:

I am an unequivocal opponent of American torture. I do not think torture should be used in special circumstances; I do not think torture should be employed unofficially; I do not think the United States should torture by proxy in foreign lands.

I oppose torture for all the lofty reasons and all the practical reasons that we hear about endlessly. It would reduce us as a people and yield little, if any, benefit.

What’s torture? There’s no sense in ignoring the slippery borders between tough interrogations and practices that should not carry the imprimatur of the United States of America. But if weighing the legal, moral, and historical implications makes torture harder, not easier, to identify, there is, I believe, a clear way through the morass. How’s this? Anything to which Christopher Hitchens is willing to submit himself in pursuit of a Vanity Fair article is not torture. This covers, among other things, back-waxing, exercise class, and waterboarding.

An unapologetic waterboarding policy would mean the U.S. could dispense with its wink-and-nod renditions, its interminable legal parsing, and its ever-conflicted public attitude. Waterboarding is quick, bloodless, painless, and uniquely effective; if explicitly overseen by competent appointees, it would doubtless become more of each.

Yet, the effectiveness of interrogations has now itself become a negative, according to anti-Bush cultists. This is from an Andrew Sullivan reader whom Andrew saw fit to publish in rebuttal to my defense of CIA interrogations:

What bothers me about this viewpoint is that if these techniques are so harmless, then how do they even work?

If a face slap is not big deal, then how does it result in information? If putting an insect in a cage with a prisoner is something to laugh about, why are they insisting that it works? Do they really imagine that enemy prisoners with incredible, ticking time-bomb information fold so easily?

So, you see, anything that works is now torture. That is, of course, where all the unserious criticism was always leading. The “sad and dark” nature of the Bush chapter in American history is constituted by the very fact that the U.S. sought to fight back in earnest against a committed and deadly enemy. For it is in our success that we are to find our deepest shame.



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