Monday, May 10, 2004

Getting My Back? I'm consistently misunderstood on this point (and I stupidly rode the issue into the wind over at Radley's place), so I was glad to read Stephen Green's post today on torture. He doesn't argue in favor of torturing POWs, nor does he attempt to argue that the magnitude of Saddam's crimes excuses ours. But he is the only other blogger I've read who has had the stones to say, in some way, "Let's be careful with the word "atrocity."
Alan Dershowitz, the noted lefty attorney, has called for legalized torture, in "ticking time bomb" cases. Given the nature of the conflict in Iraq today, does he think that Americans are justified in using psychological torture to save lives?

If not, why not?

And why has he not spoken out publicly on the matter?

Just to be certain, let me throw out the same caveats on quoting Steve's material here. First, I don't know if he agrees with me, in whole or in part. (Perhaps I sensed that he, too, saw the entirety of opinion pointing in one direction; that always spooks me.) Second, as details continue to emerge, there can be no doubt that crimes of abuse and torture were indeed committed at Abu Ghraib. (And I never argued that there weren't.) The solution here is to punish the guilty, of course, but also to reform the policy. Third, I don't (and I'm pretty sure Steve doesn't) make a brief in favor of torture so much as in favor of a stated policy from leaders who are honest and clear-eyed about the implications of a zero-tolerance policy -- the policy implied when people rise as one and cry, "Atrocity!"

I did some thinking about it this weekend. I haven't seen the latest pictures, but I thought of one of the awful stories that came out last week: the one in which the guards made some frail old Iraqi woman get down on hands and knees so that they could ride her like a horse. Seems inhuman, doesn't it. But I know that if my son's life were on the line, perhaps in a Daniel Pearl sort of way, and I thought this woman had information that could help me save him . . . well, Heigh-ho, Silver! So what that she's an old lady? That much is an emotional trick. After all, if you would exempt an old lady from any methods, you exempt all of humanity. (And if you wish to do so, I have no argument with you.)

No, I don't think the guards at Abu Ghraib were acting in a "ticking time bomb" sort of way. They were getting kicks from power, and they should pay. But I still think that snap labeling everything an atrocity can only, in effect, defin atrocity down. The holocaust is a good example of atrocity, especially the part when the Nazis fed Jews, one after another, into ovens.

Panties on a prisoner's head? Not so atrocious.

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