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They’ve Busted Themselves

Tyler Cowen is scared of the sunlight:

At many blogs (Sullivan, Yglesias, DeLong, among others) you will find ongoing arguments for prosecuting the torturers who ran our government for a while.  I am in agreement with the moral stance of these critics but I don’t agree with their practical conclusions.  I believe that a full investigation would lead the U.S. public to, ultimately, side with torture, side with the torturers, and side against the prosecutors.  That’s why we can’t proceed and Obama probably understands that.  If another attack happened this would be all the more true.

[ . . .]

Pushing for prosecution would more likely endanger rule of law than preserve it, which is a sorry state of affairs.

And the opponents of enhanced interrogations say that the pro-side is Orwellian.

What Cowen actually means is, “Pushing for prosecution would more likely endanger my position than preserve it.” And he’s right. That’s because the anti-enhanced interrogation front has done themselves an insurmountable disservice with their incontinent use of the word “torture.” First, if there was ever a categorical link between that term and the interrogation methods employed by the CIA it’s long disappeared into the white noise of Huffington Post headlines and the Abu Ghraib body salad found daily on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.  Not only did these folks invent the torture; they supplied the torture fatigue.

They’ve been sloppy, lumping everything from Lynndie England to the false story of a Qur’an flushed down a Guantanamo toilet under the umbrella of Bush’s official torture policy. And they overshot — never more so than when Christopher Hitchens elected to be waterboarded (twice, just to make sure) and wrote that “if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.” Even if you feel waterboarding is torture, does it really exemplify it? More so than, say, electrodes to the genitals or bamboo under the fingernails? I haven’t read many first-hand accounts from journalists who volunteered to give those a whirl.

Second, waterboarding is not torture. Nor is a slap to the chin or confinement with a caterpillar. If there are hearings and Americans are forced to pore over the minutiae of the tough but restrained CIA techniques, the lurid inventions of Sullivan, Matt Yglesias, Naomi Wolfe, and Spencer Ackerman will read like science fiction by comparison. And that is one of the most damaging aspects of this drama. True torture, and victims of it, have been intellectually and morally slighted in favor of anti-Bush hysteria. The real thing exists, but you’d never know it from the exaggerations of those who’ve abused its likeness to meet petty ends.



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