Monday, May 4, 2009

The One Time Torture is OK

Charles Krauthammer, who still somehow magically draws a paycheck from various well-respected journalistic enterprises, has a new column up over here talking about the whole “torture” thing that the kids are all into these days. Check it out:

“Torture is an impermissible evil.”

Well, great! Column is over, we can all go home, finally in agreement for once, etc.

but wait…

You can feel it too, can’t you? He isn’t done yet, there’s something else on the way: an exception (or two, as it turns out!):

“Except under two circumstances. The first is the
ticking time bomb. An innocent's life is at stake.
The bad guy you have captured possesses information
that could save this life. He refuses to divulge.”

Wonderful, so the first of the two exceptions is the made-up fantasy exception. Never mind that the ticking time bomb scenario is a work of fiction, something pulled from 24 (where would conservatives be today if that show hadn’t aired?) and other unreal sources. Don’t even worry about the fact that if such a scenario were to occur, there’s a good chance that torture wouldn’t even be of use. Krauthammer wants Jack Bauer to have the right to beat up Muslims, so just back off, real world!

So the first exception can be entirely ignored. What’s up next?

“The second exception to the no-torture rule is the
extraction of information from a high-value enemy
in possession of high-value information likely to save

Even better! This is like the ticking time bomb scenario, minus all specificity. It can be used to justify torturing anyone, anywhere, for any reason. Who determines exactly how valuable the enemy and/or information has to be before torture can be employed? Keep in mind Krauthammer is envisioning this being used on people who haven’t been given a chance to prove their innocence in a court of law, so this is basically his way of saying that torturing random goat herders without any proof of anything at all is perfectly acceptable. Maybe they know something! After all, who knows what they know? They do, but we don’t trust them, so get ready for torture-fest 2009!

Pathetic acts of apologetics aside, there actually may be one time when torture is OK. Enthusiastic torture-fan Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded during his program last week, saying that he would do it as an act of charity for American troops. His guest, Charles Grodin, declined his invitation- but Keith Olbermann started loudly trying to take him up on it, offering $1000 to charity for every second of waterboarding Hannity endures.

So far Hannity hasn’t responded- nothing but uncharacteristic silence from this perpetual gasbag. It’s almost as if someone who was perfectly comfortable with having plenty of other (potentially innocent) people being tortured is afraid to have a taste of his own torturous medicine! I for one am completely shocked. Do you think that Rush Limbaugh would stop sneering at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib if the alternative was to go there* as an inmate?

Christopher Hitchens said that waterboarding was less than torture, until he was waterboarded himself. His next article was entitled “Believe Me, it’s Torture” and displayed a perfect 180 on the question of whether or not America has any business waterboarding people. As he said:

“Here is the most chilling way I can find of
stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding”
was something that Americans did to other Americans.
It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of
the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form
of training known as SERE (Survival, Evasion,
Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave
men and women were introduced to the sorts of
barbarism that they might expect to meet at the
hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the
Geneva Conventions
. But it was something
that Americans were being trained to resist, not to
Emphasis mine. I bring up Hitchens merely to suggest that if Hannity finds the guts to back up all of his talk, there may still be a happy ending here when a committed torture apologist has a dramatic conversion. There’s a good chance Hannity will continue to ignore Olbermann** (and even if he does eventually agree there’s still a huge difference between being waterboarded in a room full of people cheering you on and being waterboarded by your hostile captors), but I’d be content with him merely being unable to mention waterboarding ever again because of extreme shame. Here’s to having one less person arguing in defense of "the sort of barbarism" one might meet at the hands of "a lawless foe who disregards the Geneva Conventions."

** While we're waiting, check out Waterboard Hannity for Charity, a new site made by some people from Laissez's Fair for the express purpose of keeping track of the whole situation and raising more money for charity in the event that Hannity should ever suddenly find himself in the possession of scruples.


  1. Krauthammer is a great candidate for my "fact check byline" idea for op-ed columnists.

    "Before reading this column The Washington Post feels you should know that Charles Krauthammer has been completely wrong about every issue of any importance over the past 15 years. That is all."

  2. Doesn't the "ticking time bomb" scenario actually result in the bad information? People confessing to things they know little about and nothing productive coming from it. I feel like this was an article in the Times.

    Clearly, we should just torture everyone; eventually, we'll get good information. I'll start with Walmart executives.

  3. I'd like to start with Cheney. Clearly he's withholding high-value information on which individuals in the justice department were responsible for the legalization and use of torture.
    Waterboarding (note: not torturing... we would never torture people) Cheney could potentially produce high-value information leading to the apprehension of dangerous criminals who have wormed their way into the highest levels of our government.