Sunday, November 27


The torture debate has been dominated to some extent by the argument that, as in films and TV, it may be a necessary interrogation technique when faced with an imminent danger -- you know, the bad guy knows when and where the president will be assassinated or a nuclear weapon will be discharged, and Ah-nuld or Sly have only minutes to beat the information out of him so the world can be saved for democracy and the American way of life. That fantasy is a distraction from what was settled American principle prior to the Bush-Cheney administration, which essentially claims that anything goes.

The real torture debate, therefore, isn't about whether to throw out the rulebook in the exceptional emergencies. Rather, it's about what the rulebook says about the ordinary interrogation -- about whether you can shoot up Qatani with saline solution to make him urinate on himself, or threaten him with dogs in order to find out whether he ever met Osama bin Laden. And the trouble is that this second debate is so wrapped up in legalisms, jargon and half-truths that it is truly hard to unravel.
In the law of war, military necessity encompasses anything that contributes to victory, so the president's directive really forbids nothing but pointless sadism. Cheney and his new chief of staff, David Addington, have fought the McCain amendment precisely because it would prohibit CID treatment. In short, we comply with our legal obligations because, in the Bush lexicon, we hardly have any.
"We don't torture" means that we don't use worse tactics than CID -- except when we do. Waterboarding (in which a prisoner is made to believe he is drowning) and withholding pain medication for bullet wounds cross the line into torture -- and both have allegedly been used. So does "Palestinian hanging," where a prisoner's arms are twisted behind his back and his wrists are chained five feet above the floor.
McCain has said that ultimately the debate is over who we are. We will never figure that out until we stop talking about ticking bombs, and stop playing games with words.

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