The question of how many times it is necessary to subject a human being to torture is not a new one in human history. We've covered this ground some more in the systematic and repeated brutal torture of Abu Zubaydah and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed along with countless others. One of the more (pathetic? chilling? disturbing? absurd?) stories of the last news cycle was Fox News' insistence that Zubaydah was not actually strapped to the waterboard 83 times, but suffered only 83 "pours." Michael Goldfarb jumped on this story with his customary aplomb:
Given these numbers, there's no obvious reason to doubt the statements made by John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who was the source for the ABC report. It is not hard to imagine that the CIA, having already subjected Zubaydah to one waterboarding session that produced valuable information, would subject him to four or five more just to see what else came out.
Yes, this man was the spokesman for torture survivor John McCain in the last campaign. (Every now and again, I remember that and wonder what happened to the universe.) But we shouldn't be surprised that this kind of casuistry is not new in human history. Thanks to an ex-Jesuit reader, I came across the following phrase:
I still have some Latin but the following context helps explain Fox News' insistence and is a critical historical precedent for the Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury memos:
According to law, the torture could be inflicted but once, but this regulation was easily avoided. For it was lawful to subject the prisoner to all forms of torture in succession, and if additional evidence were discovered, the torture could be repeated. When they desired therefore to repeat the torture, after an interval of several days, they evaded the law by not calling it a "repetition" but a continuance of the first torture. Ad continuandum tormenta, non ad iterandum, as Eymeric styles it.
Those who know no history are condemned to repeat it. But America? And the Inquisition?