Okay, one more post and then I'll move on from the torture blogging for a little while.
Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review, the leading conservative magazine in the country, had this to say about the torture memos in a column this week:
Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. They represent a nation of laws struggling to defend itself against a savage, lawless enemy while adhering to its legal commitments and norms. Most societies throughout human history wouldn’t have bothered. ...
In contrast, we carefully parsed each of our techniques to ensure it wouldn’t cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” This touchingly legalistic exercise at times took on a comic aspect.
It's hard to know where to start with this, and difficult to fathom how depraved modern conservatism has become. (By the way, for those who don't remember, this is the guy who got a raging hard-on during Sarah Palin's debate with Joe Biden.)
First of all, as Andrew Sullivan has noted, the Nazis also placed limits on their harshest methods of interrogation, limiting the number of times a captive could be struck with a stick, for example, without having a doctor present.
Are the Nazis worthy of our praise? They were, in their own way, I suppose, a "nation of laws."
Lowry notes that "most societies throughout human history wouldn't have bothered" with finding legal justification for harsh treatment of prisoners. Um, most societies throughout human history have been utterly barbaric. What's the idea here? Because we're more enlightened than Vlad the Impaler, we should throw ourselves a party?
Throughout the article, Lowry indulges in a popular tactic among torture defenders: Minimize the offense by picking out a few methods that seem odd or less than excruciatingly painful. So Lowry touches on the "comic" aspect of sticking an insect in a coffin-like box with a man who has a phobia of insects and has been led to believe it's of the stinging variety. And he devotes a paragraph to the care given to the subjects of "walling," the purpose of which in Lowry's view was simply to make a "loud, startling noise" when their shoulder blades hit the wall.
It's frankly despicable to hear these arguments minimizing the effects of these methods. Anyone who's ever been arrested or spent a night in jail knows how disturbing it is to have one's freedom almost completely taken away for just a brief period of time. Criminal suspects are often traumatized enough during long (10 hours, say) interrogations that they enter false confessions and begin to doubt their own accounts of their innocence, without even the threat of violence.
Even if having a towel wrapped around your head and being slammed against a flexible wall repeatedly is far less painful than having a finger cut off, it is humiliating and degrading, an utter affront on one's dignity as a human being.
Remember, the vast majority of people upon whom these methods were used were innocent of anything other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Lowry, like most torture apologists, conveniently ignore this: "(The methods) were instead deployed against terrorists with information about their network and perhaps ongoing plots."
Lowry ends his column with this outrageous statement:
If we had a more mature political culture, this and other questions could be thoroughly examined by a special congressional committee. ... But such an inquiry would inevitably descend into a hyperpoliticized takedown of the CIA and the Bush Justice Department for “war crimes.” The frenzied reception of the “torture memos” is just a preview.
In Lowry's view, it is those who are pressing for prosecutions of men and women who designed the Bush administration's torture regime who are immature and standing in the way of a civilized discussion of what happened and how to move forward, rather than those who make juvenile sport of this stain on our reputation as the world's leading light of democracy. That's chutzpah. Or stupidity. Or both.