Re: Not Pro-Torture, Just Pro-Facts
...in just about everything I’ve written and said, I’ve taken pains to emphasize that I oppose torture. However, I do think (1) it’s important to define torture so we know what we are talking about, and (2) all forms of “stress and duress” utilized to elicit cooperation from a terrorist in possession of life-saving information are not torture.
Every opponent I’ve debated on has taken this tactic — labeling me as “pro-torture,” refusing to grapple with definitions, and refusing to consider whether there may be methods of interrogation that are unpleasant but fall short of torture.
The full Stewart interview from Tuesday night is here, if you want it. I'm on record as wishing those Daily Show interviews would just go away; unlike Colbert's they grind the show to a screeching halt half the time, and when they don't it's generally because they're delightful fluff. I realize it's easier than trying to write another ten minutes of comedy every night, but Jon's no interviewer, and especially when he has some axe to grind they tread dangerously close to the Olbermannesque, with the exceptions that Jon doesn't come across as having an Ego too big for the studio, and that he'd be somewhat justified if he did.
When he decides to tear somebody a new one, McCain, say, whom he'd kissed up to after Honest John played kissyface with Bush, or whatisname from the whatchacallit financial news, he winds up shouting platitudes. It's Jon, so it's believable and sorta cute, like a comedy routine without the jokes, but compare Stephen asking Peggy Noonan whether it was Reagan or John Paul II who won the Cold War.
And that Cliff May shite above is a case in point. It was practically the first thing out of his mouth: "I'm not pro-torture". At which point Jon made a funny about going to commercial.
Okay, it was early in what was a planned five minutes. And it's Jon. But May's routine here is the essence of what had happened to the story last week, as the Right tried to shift the shame from the revelations of how wantonly we did use torture to how specious an abstract concept it is willing to turn torture into and then defend. How is it we come to be discussing, yet again, the teevee thriller "philosophical" "justifications" for torture as though we haven't been over it a few thousand times already? It's like saying, "I'm not a racist, but...." We don't need what follows repeated. We're not deaf. We're not avoiding the argument. We've rejected it, several hundred reiterations ago.
That the Bush administration was torturing people is established. It was established beyond dispute two weeks ago, when the numbers "83" and "183" were printed in the same sentence as "in a month". At that point every previous attempt to justify our use of torture--the Ticking Time Bomb gambit, the Only Way To Extract Certain Information ploy, and the What We're Doing Is Perfectly Legal ruse--shriveled up and died like a spider on a hot stove.
That any of those is treated as an actual argument in the first place is bad enough; none rises above the level of suggested essay questions at the end of a high school civics textbook chapter. But how do they reappear as "answers" or "facts", of the Corner sort, after this month's revelations? They don't. At this point, assuming you are anti-pro-torture, it's yourselves you ought to be questioning. This is the dog that didn't bark of the whole sordid tale.
Yet May is allowed on th' teevee to say, e.g., that the CIA called the Bush administration to say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed wouldn't talk, and could they try something a little stronger? despite the fact that it's now March of 2003, the torture program has been in place for a year, and if they'd spent any time at all trying to get him to talk without torture those waterboardings must have come every 18 minutes instead of every four hours. He's allowed to say "we only waterboarded three prisoners, all high al-Qaeda officials", despite the fact that he knows no such thing, and to repeat the latest Crazy Islamic Theology canard, that Allah requires these guys to endure interrogation to their utmost limit before spilling, because the noted Islamic scholar Abu Zubaydah told the CIA just that. According to the CIA. After they tortured him.
And this, y'know, despite the fact that we learned a couple weeks ago that Abu Zubayday had already provided us with all the important information we got from him before we waterboarded him every eight hours for a month. I used to think that sort of thing qualified as a contradiction, or as trapping someone in a lie. Now it's more like a tic.
Why is it we're still hearing this when those hypotheticals--what loony Cornerites call facts--didn't rise to the level of justifying the bullshit "he talked after 30 seconds" routine back before that one became inoperative? Why do we need a "definition" of torture based on how close to the line we can get, or what sorts of categorical euphemisms qualify as "acceptable"? If you fall from a 14th story window you're dead, from the fall; it's not ameliorated by calling it a Deceleration Event or a Routine Gravitational Occurrence, nor by the fact that the building had a nurse on duty. The Geneva Conventions are not a collection of suggested high school debate topics. If we are gnawing over what "shocks the conscience" means, rather than what "183 times in a single month" means, it's because we are looking for ways to justify torture, not guidelines for avoiding it. "Pro-torture" is really one of the nicer things Cliff May ought to be hearing said about himself.
AND let's say this one more time: if we truly had a situation where Time was judged of the essence, and a field commander judged that physical coercion was the only way to extract information, he'd use it; and no doubt this has happened many times. We're not having this conversation because any one of those "hypotheticals" came into play, or because an episode of unauthorized torture came to light (again, nobody's even bothering to claim we were getting intel from Abu Ghraib). We're having it because the Bush administration specifically sought to torture al-Qaeda "officials", and god knows who else, and to do so under cover of cutesy "legal" "opinion". I realize that Jon Stewart, e.g., has not seen these guys in operation as long as I have; if he had the idea that Dick Cheney, e.g., would torture captives just for the sake of the kitten-in-the-woodchipper psychic satisfaction it brings (long distance, natch), would not reside as some sort of Horrible Thought in the far corners of his head, but operate as a sort of manual for dealing with that end of the political spectrum, day-to-day. As it has for me, for decades.