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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The pro-torture contingent unmasks itself

The volatile debate over torture has evolved significantly. It began as an argument over whether the United States has been systematically torturing people, with Administration critics insisting that it has done so, while Administration defenders outrageously objected to the very suggestion that the U.S. would do such a terrible thing.

As the evidence of torture mounted, it became inescapably clear that torture has indeed played some role in the Administration's policies for interrogating (at the very least) suspected terrorists. That has forced some Administration defenders, for whom criticizing the Administration is never an option, to abandon their denial of American torture and, instead, embrace a defense of it. That means that we now have a substantial and growing portion of the population that actually espouses a pro-torture viewpoint, i.e., they believe that the U.S. should torture people as part of its war on terrorism.

For compelling proof that the pro-torture advocates are now unabashedly embracing their position, and for a glimpse of how the pro-torture argument is to be advocated, there is this post from "Ace" at Ace of Spades, who proudly enunciates the virtues of torture. Ace's post -- which is driven by outrage over the anti-torture objections of Andrew Sullivan to a particularly vile exploitation of John McCain's torture experience -- foreshadows some of the rhetorical techniques to be used by those who are pro-torture as they bravely unmask themselves more and more:

(1) Those who think torture is wrong are simply hysterical and overemotional. The term Ace uses for the anti-torture contingent is "torture hysterics," as featured in this sentence:

"One of the lies the torture hysterics have been peddling for years is that torture never works. "

He also labels Sullivan a "shrieking hysteric," "Saint Andrew of the Scared Heart-Ache," and the "Shrill Shill." People who are opposed to torture just need to get a hold of their emotions, stop being such pussies, and butch up.

(2) Anyone who accepts reality must acknowledge that torture works. It is an important and powerful tool to be used against terrorists. Thus, Ace pronounces the notion that torture does not work to be "one of the lies of torture hysterics." With respect to the widespread view of intelligence and interrogation experts that torture is an ineffective interrogation tool (for instance, CIA Director Porter Goss yesterday: "We want accurate information . . . and we do it in a way that does not involve torture because torture is counterproductive"), Ace tells us: "It's untrue and it always has been."

With the argument being advanced that torture is an effective tool against terrorists, it can't be that far off for us to start hearing that anyone who opposes torture is pro-terrorist.

Oh, wait-- we already have heard that, from big tough warrior Paul Mirgenoff at Powerline, who accused John McCain of being "pro-terrorist rights" because McCain, like the subversive wuss that he is, favors legislation to ban torture.

Once the premise is advanced that "torture works," equating those who oppose torture with the surrender-happy terrorist-lovers who want Osama bin Laden to win is inevitable and imminent.

(3) Strip anyone who opposes torture of their status as hero and patriot. The heroism of John McCain's past can't be impugned, but it can surely be pointed out how long ago and obsolete that heroism is:


So Newsmax offers the genuine martial and moral hero (at least he was such some time ago) of John McCain as yet another strong, committed, patriotic man ultimately broken down by torture.

If the new line is that torture works because it broke down John McCain and the North Vietnamese made him sign statements against his country, how far off are we from the pro-torture advocates finally getting it off their chests and accusing McCain of being a traitorous coward? Ace claims he doesn't believe that, but as the torture debate heats up even more, and McCain continues to be the face of the anti-torture contingent, can that final and ultimate attack on McCain's character really be suppressed much longer? We'll see.

The fact that we are even having a real torture debate now -- not over whether we do it, but whether our doing it is justifiable -- is rather significant in itself. Even the existence of the terms "pro-torture" and "anti-torture" position is by itself striking. The taboo against torture is gone, irreversibly, and one can now proudly and in (sort of) good company declare oneself to be pro-torture and attack those who are "anti-torture" as being weak and irrational.

It used to be unnecessary to even express opposition to the American Government torturing people, since its doing so was beyond the pale of debate. It no longer is. In fact, to believe that torture should be off-limits to the Government is to reveal yourself as a "torture hysteric," and, sooner rather than later, a pro-terrorist, surrender-happy traitor.

If things like torture, not to mention the indefinite incarceration of American citizens, aren't off-limits to the American government, what is?

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