You Know, One Of The Reasons Kings Fell Out Of Favor Was That Whole Star-Chamber Incident
December 19, 2008
I started off in a good mood this morning because the Journal had this very entertaining and interesting piece on The Man Who Would Be Dauphin. Oh, those silly Europeans — those silly, silly French! Then they had to go opining about torture (or, in their terminology, “torture” — note deliberate use of scare-quotes throughout the article: oh yes, to call torture torture is to engage in dishonest — “dishonest” — “postmodern”/”relativist” shenanigans).
It’s mostly the usual case (Thesis: “It wasn’t torture, but even if it was, why complain? It worked!”), but with a few exceptions. For example, it’s ostensibly targeted at the Levin-McCain torture report, only you wouldn’t know until the penultimate paragraph that McCain had anything to do with it, and then you’d have no idea that he was recently welcome enough in the Republican Party to be its presidential nominee a few months ago.
Reading it, I’m inclined to agree with what John and Willhad to say about objecting to torture on purely pragmatic grounds — the editorial’s author is trying to shift the debate there. It seems obvious that he senses the ground is more even if the moral debate is set aside. And it is. The most compelling case is not, “Torture does not work,” (then some question like, “What if we make it work?” and you’re convincing nobody) but, “Torture is a moral wrong,” or, “Torture is antithetical to democracy.”
Ignoring the moral level of the debate allows the author to utter this bit of pontificating in what appears to be good faith: “Why John McCain endorsed this Levin gambit is the kind of mystery that has defined, and damaged, his career.”
The answer, quite simply, is he was tortured. But if you subscribe to the beliefs of the editorial, you couldn’t say so — acts committed against some of our prisoners that are the same or comparable to some of what McCain endured in Vietnam aren’t merely not torture; they are “light years away from actual torture.”
“Bush officials like John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Jim Haynes . . . acted in good faith to keep the country safe within the confines of the law.”
Who wants to bet that McCain’s North Vietnamese “interrogators” were also acting within the law of the land; or that any torture committed by any nation is defended as being within the law? I’d suppose that, in totalitarian/dictatorial regimes, it always is. So if you’re going to make this case in defense of those who gave the legal authorization of torture within the United States, you need to make it for the bad guys.
By this logic, McCain’s “interrogators” and those who authorized/ordered their techniques were also acting in good faith to keep their country safe within the confines of the law.
And this is why those scare quotes with their implication that I’m the one redefining language and standards irritate me so much. The moral relativists and twisters of language here are those who would hold America to a lower standard than that to which we hold our enemies — than the one to which we hold those who, judging purely by their behavior, are worse than us. You can’t have it both ways.
One thing that more reasonably deserves debate is the matter of torture prosecutions. It was, like the Levin-McCain report, what the editorial claimed to concern, but it made no effort to really engage the matter. That would be far more interesting, and far more important, if it were to be done honestly and rigorously — and doesn’t require that the Journal concede such crimes were committed. But maybe they don’t have as much patience as I do for debates conducted entirely in hypotheticals.