Friday, May 01, 2009

Thursday talk radio update II

It amazes me how many phony and irrelevant arguments about torture hold sway in the talk radio world. Dennis Miller and Dave Rye both had some yesterday, and Hannity has been a veritable fount of them. Just to keep our minds clear, let's once more shoot down a few of the more obvious errors.

1. Torture is OK if it works. The Convention Against Torture, which was signed and publicly promoted by President Reagan, who some conservatives seem to think was a pretty good president, specifically says that torture for any reason is banned. Of course, it has to say that. Everybody who tortures can think of a good reason to do it. The torture convention simply takes that argument off the table. As somebody said on "Says You," that argument is like saying, "Maybe robbery is a crime, but look at all the nice stuff I got."

2. Waterboarding is OK because other forms of torture are worse. So the next time a cop pulls you over for speeding, try to talk him out of a ticket by saying, "Hey, maybe I was driving too fast, but at least I didn't shoot anybody." Let me know how that works for you.

3. Waterboarding isn't torture because it doesn't seem like torture to me. Dennis Miller was making this point yesterday, apparently unaware that binding international legal precedents are not set by comedians. Unfortunately for his legal theories, it's pretty clear that waterboarding violates U.S. law, the convention on torture and the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. remedy for that problem is to either abide by the law or change the law and to either renegotiate or repudiate the treaties. We can't just let talk show hosts make up their own laws.

What these confused pundits probably do know but don't like to mention is that we are bound by treaty not only to refrain from torture but also to punish those who fail to refrain. So when the former president and vice president of the United States openly admit to practices that almost surely violate our treaty obligations, then Obama risks committing a war crime himself if he fails to pursue an investigation.

Personally, I think that pursuing torture charges against Bush administration officials is bad politics. It may even be bad for the country. But I don't think that we have an honorable alternative.


Mark T said...

I'll add one more: "Torture is about getting information". These people are not fools - they know that it does not provide good intelligence. They do it for a different reason - to traumatize people and make them stop resisting you when you do things like, say .... invading and occupying your country. Abu Ghraib was not an aberration - it was the tip of the iceberg - a massive counterinsurgency effort designed to find, torture and break the resistance, to settle the country down under permanent occupation.

Chuck Rightmire said...

I remember as a 10 or 11 year old floating in a swimming pool on an inflated rubber inner tube and having someone tip me over backwards. I was upside down in the water with more water coming in my nose and starting to panic, when I realized that I was in real shallow water and if I got myself under control I could get out by myself, which I did. But it was still intense fear for a moment to be in a position to what I understand is the position for waterboarding. It was not fun and if I was in the same position again, I'd probably say whatever the interrogator wanted me to say to get it to stop (sooner rather than 182 times later).

I also wonder about the value of "tortured" intelligence. Any parent knows that a child is likely to say almost anything, to agree to almost anything to get out of punishment, even if it's just grounding for a month.

Kirk Dooley said...

Going after George and Dick and their minions may feel good to those of us who were on the other side, but would be nothing more than the same witch hunt we saw 10 years ago when the Republicans went after Clinton for dallying with Monica. A truth commission -- a non-partisan truth commission -- is the best way to go, as it would leave a permanent black mark on Dubya's legacy. (Of course, the inciminating documents will probably be hidden in a sturdy vault on the campus of Southern Methodist University, if Dubya has his way...)