A reader writes:
I’m a Republican subscriber to the Dish and a frequent yeller at my computer screen as a result – and I’ll stay an enthusiastic subscriber because you’ve got passion and smarts and personality, and that’ll more than do. But honestly, not one reference, throughout your ongoing commentary about the Senate torture report, to the 2,996 victims of the 9/11 attacks? They went to work that morning and died in horror and never knew why – surely there’s some mitigating context that deserves at least a mention alongside the allegations (and yes, ugly truths) about America’s security efforts in the wake of that attack.
Another quotes me:
All I want you to do is imagine if you were witnessing this scene in a movie. The interrogators would be Nazis, wouldn’t they? And now they are us.
No, they would not have be Nazis. They could be Jack Bauer from 24, a critically acclaimed show that millions loved to watch for nearly 200 episodes. Maybe you think that proves your point? I say the opposite of course – that war is hell, that in every war bad things are done that MUST be done, and that the vast majority of decent Americans understand this as well, despite you’re preachy moralism on the Dish to the contrary. We do not, unfortunately, live in world where we get to decide between two ideals, but often we only get to decide between actions, and outcomes, that are “really bad” and “even worse”, and even then reasonable people will disagree on what should have been done. Thus some still call Truman a monster for dropping the bombs.
Another criticizes us at length:
Dish reporting on the Senate report is not unlike Amanda Marcotte et al’s take on campus sexual assault: everything bad ever said about the CIA/Bush/Cheney is uncritically taken as true, any dissent or contradiction is dismissed/vilified out of hand. All up, not the Dish’s finest hour. To clear up a couple of things:
1) Water boarding is torture.
2) Not all torture is the same. Hot irons are not the same as slapping someone or verbal threats of physical punishment. Plain and simple. Loud music and cold-water immersion are not the same as wrenching off toe nails. We aren’t talking nuance; we are talking intellectual honesty and reasoned examination. It may be ugly, and it make be torture, but there levels, degrees, etc of abuse and pretending otherwise is effective only when preaching to the choir.
At least three glaring errors in the Dish’s side of this argument:
1) “Michael Hayden Unravels” – Ok, I watched it. He didn’t unravel. He did unravel the allegations in the Senate report. This is an editing error, at best, or indicative of a very lax standard for criticizing the opposition. You might say that Hayden was unresponsive in some respects. That would be fair. But that he unraveled? No way.
2) You quote Larison, as follows, with approval: “Torture is absolutely wrong and absolutely useless, and demonstrating the truth of both statements will make clear how completely bankrupt its defenders’ arguments really are.” The first part might be true, but the second part is debatable and by no means objectively established. Repeatedly asserted but not objectively established.
More to the point, how does one establish that torture is “absolutely useless” without actually using torture on a systematic basis and finding out whether, in fact, it works (which itself is a subject analysis). Because a Senate report says so? Because others say so? Crap. We get that all the time, where there is some asserted, final word on some topic that turns out to be crap. What is really at play here is a very desperate need by the Dish and its side to establish this “fact” as beyond question. Why? Because if torture, in some applications, does work, the absolutist argument becomes less compelling if innocent lives are in the balance and if the torture subject is shown to be in possession of valid intelligence.
I realize this is an unlikely and somewhat contrived scenario, but I am not the one making blanket statements. If a blanket statement is universally true, then there shouldn’t be any demonstrable exceptions. But regardless, the assertion that torture doesn’t work seems outright stupid to me. It might not work on some people, but it will absolutely work on others. For example, threaten my wife or my children and watch me puke up whatever you might want to know. Truthfully, it would take less effort than that. The fact that spies are created by blackmail indicates that relatively low levels of coercion are effective on some people. For a different spin, imagine Peter King being able to maintain his position that water boarding isn’t torture after spending five minutes under the bucket.
3) Here’s another good one, from someone like me yet not like me: “You can be for torture, but you can’t be for torture and then claim that it’s somehow inappropriately barbaric for ISIS to crucify the innocent.” Seriously? So, if the only people being water boarded are known associates of ISIS John the Beheader and the sole purpose of the water boarding is to locate and neutralized ISIS John, that is really no different than randomly rounding up innocent bystanders and lopping off their heads? Brilliant.
This isn’t a debate. It isn’t a discussion. It’s an echo chamber.
For the record, I think torture is wrong in almost nearly every application (and that, if used in exceptional circumstances, the law, not people, should say when and if some specified means of coercion may be applied – we don’t do any of that). The process of asking for forgiveness in hindsight rather than permission in advance is wrong. I think allowing one exception makes it easier to allow the next and easier still to allow the one after that. I think the whole thing is a hellish conundrum and would rather debate marginal tax rates.
But what I don’t think is that it is as straight up clear cut as your howling would have it. Like I said, not the Dish’s finest hour.
(Photo: A man falls to his death from the World Trade Center after two planes hit the twin towers September 11, 2001. By Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)