June 3, 2007

But the Terrorists torture people too

We have had this conversation too many times here to count. But the conversation is still out there. Evidently, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto complained last week that a recent raid in Iraq uncovered torture plans, but didn't spur liberal outrage. He referred to Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan as the most "hysterical" accusers of American torture and found them silent on the issue of Al-Qaeda torture. Evidently, this has become a trend among the right. Brent Bozell has evidently started a campaign about it. Good god.

Greenwald responded and it is worth the read (and sitting through an ad to get to Salon):
It is easy sometimes to lose sight of how extreme a period this is in America's history, how profoundly our national character has been degraded and how fundamentally our country's core has changed over the last six years. If you haven't already read Andrew Sullivan's superb and dispassionate analysis of the Gestapo's "Verschärfte Vernehmung" manual (German for "enhanced interrogation"), I encourage you to do so.

That post has prompted all of the predictable cliches in reply -- he's being hysterical, violating Godwin's Law, comparing Bush to Hitler, etc. etc. -- but Sullivan actually does very little in that post other than matter-of-factly highlight the glaring similarities between the Gestapo guidelines regulating its use of techniques such as hypothermia and waterboarding (for which some Gestapo defendants were convicted and sentenced to death at a 1948 war crimes trial) and our own. As Sullivan documents, virtually every Yoo-ian torture defense offered today is identical to the ones advanced by those German war crime defendants in an unsuccessful attempt to defend their use of 'enhanced interrogation' techniques.
The degradation of our national character is deep and troubling. The Vice President dismisses Constitutional protections as some kind of nicety. Tom Tancredo worships Jack Bauer's torture techniques, and the President, while saying we don't torture, does. The neo-cons even chide liberals like us for having some kind of agenda against America when we ask about torture.

Greenwald nails it, however.
The reason that it is news that the U.S. tortures, but not news that Al Qaeda does, is because Al Qaeda is a barbaric and savage terrorist group which operates with no limits, whereas the U.S. is supposed to be something different than that. Isn't it amazing that one even needs to point that out?
But neoconservatives and other Bush followers do not recognize that distinction and do not believe in it. They see an equivalency between the U.S. and Al Qaeda -- since they do it, we are justified in doing it. And thus, based on that equivalency, they demand that the media treat stories of torture from the U.S. and Al Qaeda exactly the same, as though they are equally newsworthy.

And with that twisted equivalency bolted into place, they have dragged our country on a path where that premise is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our own interrogation methods are reverse-engineered from the most brutal and barbaric countries and groups on the planet. And the policies and practices we have adopted over the last six years embody everything which this country, for decades, vocally deplored. But all of that happened because of this "belief" -- which is really just a self-justifying rationalization -- that we not only have the right to be, but that we must be, exactly like Al Qaeda, do what they do, in order to defeat them.
The President and VP and the rest of the neocons have turned us into our enemies (historical and present) in order to defeat our enemies.

We keep saying, it isn't about them, it is about who we are. Or it used to be.


steve s said...

I participate in a sportsmen's forum that mostly discusses issues related to hunting and fishing. They have a fairly active political sub-forum. Overall, there tends to be a slight majority of conservatives there, though I would have to say that the whole political spectrum is pretty well represented. This story came up and the same questions were asked.

I'll admit that I wondered some of the same things. I was curious as to why it wasn't being very heavily reported, though I didn't believe it was part of any liberal conspiracy. When people started asking where the outrage was, I pointed out the same thing that many others have said. Al-Qaeda are evil extremists and can be expected to torture. I certainly don't condone it, but I am not surprised that they have torture manuals.

The discussion then moved on to torture in general. I was saddened to find that a fair number of posters seemed to be ok with torture as long as it was done by the 'good guys' and that they 'had a really good reason.' The other excuse...'they do it, too.' They are all weak and morally bankrupt excuses, but the last one seemed to bother me the most. We made it through WWII and Vietnam (for the most part) without torturing, despite the fact that our enemies had extensive torture programs set up.

Streak said...

Steve, that is really scary. but supported by the polling data, I am afraid. "They do it too" is the lamest of them all, though the "it is ok if we do it" is almost worse because it suggests that we can play by different rules.

Let me add to your statement about WWII. Not only did we resist torturing (I am sure some was done, but it was never suggested as policy) but we prosecuted Japanese and Germans for war crimes for doing these things. I wonder if your sporting buddies know about that.

steve s said...

Fortunately, the thread wasn't all that popular and the few blowhard, torture supporters are the same folks that spout off all sorts of other nonsense. Idiots.

Streak said...

I hope so, Steve. I fear that many Americans don't really care about torture that much. If we tortured Christian anti-abortion activists, they might, but torturing people who might be terrorists just doesn't bother most Americans. I fear.