McCarthy On The Torture Tapes I

One gets a sense of shrill hysteria from sentences like this:

Al-Qaeda’s air raid on 9/11 eclipsed Pearl Harbor in devastation and shock value. It exceeded anything ever accomplished by Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.

Andy McCarthy means against the homeland, I presume. But his need for existential hysteria to defend the indefensible is hurt by such qualifications. Then there's this:

Regardless of what the revisionist Left is now saying, the only bright-line limit on the treatment of alien enemy combatants held outside the United States in 2002 was the federal law against torture.

And so the Geneva Conventions evaporate, including Article 3 which requires baseline protection from abuse and torture of any military prisoners, regardless of their uniform, status or provenance. No one's talking full POW status; we're talking minimal decency status. And I fail to see how John McCain and a vast swathe of American servicemembers and veterans count as the "revisionist Left."

McCarthy also goes on at length about the distinction between "forcible" or "coerced" interrogation methods and "torture." Where in the law is that distinction maintained? Coercion is coercion. It means a victim is forced by physical or mental pain or suffering to say things they have not previously said. When you freeze someone to the point of terror, you are torturing them. When you apply a technique so unbearable most victims cannot last beyond a few seconds - whether that pain is from drowning or electrocution - you are torturing them. There really is no getting around this. And the administration knows it. Why do you think they destroyed the tapes?

Yes, we're at war. We were at war against the Nazis and didn't adopt their interrogation methods until president Bush came on the scene half a century later. We were at war with Stalin and didn't replicate his hypothermia and sleep-deprivation interrogation methods until the Soviet Union was defeated and Dick Cheney was vice-president. We need not have given - and almost certainly should not have given - every non-citizen terror suspect in captivity unfettered access to the civilian courts. But it was and is folly not to treat them humanely: folly for the integrity of the intelligence we need and folly for the cause we are fighting for.

The torture issue is not a function of some of us wanting to legally entangle a vital war to the point of paralysis. It is a function of some of us wanting to win this war the way Americans have always won - with honor, legal clarity and the moral highground. The Bush administration has managed both to destroy that high-ground and failed, by its arrogance and constitutional extremism, to construct a system of interrogation and detention that everyone could buy into, and everyone could be proud of.