Hornswaggler | The culture, the humor, a bit of the sports, not so much the politics, and the workplace distraction

Hornswaggle is an alternate spelling of hornswoggle, an archaic word that means to bamboozle or hoodwink. I take my pronunciation from the late Harvey Korman in "Blazing Saddles" --

"I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, conmen, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswagglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass kickers, shit kickers and Methodists!"

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Monday, April 27, 2009

That's just Broder being Broder

Because there's nothing smoother than a torture>football>torture blogging transition, allow me briefly to dip my toe back in the torture cesspool with a couple thoughts on David Broder's column in Sunday's edition of the Washington Post, in which he unsurprisingly comes out against any prosecutions of the people responsible for establishing America's short-lived but glorious regime of torture.

Here's how Broder kicks things off:

If ever there were a time for President Obama to trust his instincts and stick to his guns, that time is now, when he is being pressured to change his mind about closing the books on the "torture" policies of the past.

Obama, to his credit, has ended one of the darkest chapters of American history, when certain terrorist suspects were whisked off to secret prisons and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of painful coercion in hopes of extracting information about threats to the United States.

In the first paragraph, Broder puts the word "torture" in scare quotes, indicating he does not accept the idea that the practices that the U.S. used on foreign detainees constitutes torture. But in the second paragraph, he specifically mentions waterboarding and "other forms of painful coercion."

Hasn't Broder just provided the very definition of torture? Here's how the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory, defines it:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

So is Broder hanging his hat on the word "severe"? At any rate, there can be no doubt that waterboarding causes "severe pain or suffering." As for other methods of interrogation that the U.S. employed, the Convention Against Torture also prohibits "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment," which the U.S. has also pledged not to employ, in accordance with the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the U.S. Constitution.

So even if slapping a detainee in the face may not meet the threshold of "severe pain" -- although, come one, does anyone doubt that slapping has turned to full-blown punching on more than one occasion? -- it certainly amounts to cruel and degrading treatment.

So why won't Broder just come out and call it torture? I emailed him yesterday to find out but I haven't gotten a reply.

Lastly, Broder's argument here is basically this: Now that we've learned what was done in secret by a previous administration, it's good that the new administration has done away with those policies, because they were bad. But we don't want to investigate what happened, because it could lead to more partisan rancor and the indictment of high-ranking Bush administration officials, and that would also be bad.

But the obvious hole in his argument is this: Without a proper accounting of what happened, and a clear sense of what the law ought to tolerate, what is to prevent the next administration from simply reverting to the Bush administration's policies? And the answer, of course, is nothing.

The reason Broder's column is so weak is that he's casting about for a high-minded rhetorical justification for his core emotional response to the call for an investigation and possible prosecutions, which is that a such a process would inevitably be very unpleasant, and he doesn't like it when things on Capitol Hill get all unpleasant, except occasionally when the subject of the unpleasantness is a Democrat.

Alright. I'm now going to try to blog about less strident topics for while.

.: posted by hornswaggler 8:22 PM

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