JPod And Torture, II

He concedes that he was factually wrong:

It is true that the law speaks of the “threatened infliction” of “severe physical pain and suffering.” But this is an extraordinarily broad phrase that could indicate that a nine-year-old bully who terrifies another kid on the playground by threatening to rip his arm off is guilty of torture.

Such statute language does not clarify; it muddies, as legal language often muddies. If someone says, “I am going to kill you,” and by so doing causes fear in the person to whom he says it, is that torture? Clearly not, though the fear experienced by the person might be severe.

Actually: with a couple of preconditions, the answer to this last question is clearly yes. The legal language does not muddy. It only muddies if you are trying to find loopholes around torture rather than reading the clear and broad interdiction of such practices by officials of any government.

If a government representative has another person completely in his control and threatens him with being killed - what is known as a "mock execution" - yes, it would be regarded as torture, as a violation of the Geneva Conventions and thus illegal, and unconstitutional, and subject to war crime prosecution. If, for example, you are a government official or soldier, blindfold a prisoner, hold an unloaded gun at their temple, tell them you are going to shoot them, and then don't, it's still torture. They're physically unharmed - but it's a war crime nonetheless. It's severe mental suffering, used to extract a confession (usually false). That's the definition of torture. Ditto with waterboarding, where the terror of forcing someone to drown, simulating the moments before death, and then rescuing them at the last moment and repeating - is unequivocally an act of torture. It is such an act of torture that prisoners routinely beg for mercy and will tell you anything - including, of course, untruths - to stop it. And if it were done to an American soldier, JPod would call it torture, as the law clearly does. But we are supposed to believe the blog postings of Podhoretz over the convictions of John McCain on the matter. The pretension would be funny were it not so disgusting.

The truth is that the law and the Conventions were indeed written broadly and their language is sweeping. But it is not unclear. And it is the law. It is just that the authors of the law and the Conventions never dreamed that one day, the president of the United States would be attempting to evade the plain interdiction of torture under US law, and twisting the Constitution and the English language to do so. Nor would they ever have believed that a vice-president of the United States, when referring to such torture, would not even wrestle with any moral or legal questions but regard the matter as a "no-brainer", and toss the question off as if he were speaking of the weather.

But that is where we are.

2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan

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