Thinking About Torture (III)

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Naturally, the day that I suggested that conservatives have intermixed evasion and silence on the interrogation issue was the day that National Review published an editorial on the subject - blasting the Levin-McCain report, and offering a more detailed defense of the Bush Administration's detainee policy than I've read in some time.

I would need something much more detailed, though, to shift my views about the Administration's record on this front. Specifically, I would like a defender of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld approach to interrogation to write an extended review of Mayer's The Dark Side - as a joint review with Jack Goldsmith's The Terror Presidency, perhaps, or with any other book or report that seems relevant - and respond directly and in detail to the narrative she's pieced together, and to the direct and circumstantial evidence she marshals for a connection between the decisions made in the White House and the abuses that happened on the ground. To date, I don't think anything like this has appeared: Maybe I've missed something, but the most substantive critique of Mayer's work that I've seen belongs to Ben Wittes, and amid many criticisms he repeatedly praises the book's reporting, argues that the "larger narrative" she builds is essentially correct, and declares, accurately, that "no decent person can read her account of the CIA's interrogation program without something approaching nausea."

It's true that Mayer's analysis is often partisan and tendentious - you rarely forget that this is a book by a very liberal Democrat - and I think she doesn't reckon sufficiently with why the reactive, law-enforcement-based approach to counterterrorism that many of her sources clearly favor seemed so discredited after 9/11. But her reporting is deep and impressive and frequently horrifying, and the absence of a similarly deep and impressive response from the defenders of the Administration's policies - joined to the way her story dovetails with the one that Goldsmith and others have told - more or less forces me to the conclusion that she has the big picture right, and the Administration's defenders have it wrong.

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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