The comparison with Richard Reid is, of course, instructive. The Bush administration treated the shoe-bomber exactly as the Obama administration has treated the pantie-bomber - and convicted him the way no one has yet convicted anyone directly connected to 9/11. But after years of banging the drum for torture as a routine tool for US government, and accountable only to one supreme leader, the right has now shifted the goalposts again. The ticking time bomb is now an ancient criterion. Torture, for Cheney, is about treating every seized terror suspect as an intelligence target, and the entire system he created - of lawless prisons, disappearances, black sites, freezing cells, stress position shackles, upright coffins, neck-braces to slam prisoners repeatedly against plywood walls, waterboards, sensory deprivation techniques, dietary manipulation, forced-feeding, threats against relatives and children - was designed for torture as its end.
Marc Thiessen, one of those most committed to institutionalizing torture as part of the Western tradition, wants to torture the Detroit pantie-bomber:
It likely would not be necessary to use the waterboard to get Abdulmutallab to talk only 3 terrorists underwent it and only 30 had any enhanced techniques used at all. But the vast majority of Americans have it right: You don’t put an enemy combatant who just committed an act of war into the criminal-justice system and you certainly don’t give him a lawyer and tell him “you have the right to remain silent.” You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.
There is a lie in this, of course. Far, far more than thirty people were subjected to the torture techniques Cheney borrowed from the Gestapo, the Communist Chinese and the Khmer Rouge. Hundreds were treated this way at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Camp Nama (under the authority of Stanley McChrystal), Bagram and in many secret sites taken over from the KGB (yes, I'm not making this up!) in Eastern Europe.
But here's the critical line:
You make him tell you what he knows so you can prevent new attacks.
That's the line that defines torture. If you can impose enough mental or physical pain or suffering to make someone tell you something you want to hear you have forced them to say something, true or false, to get the torture to stop. The fact of the matter is: this is illegal under any rational understanding of domestic and international law. In fact, domestic and international law mandates that governments do not even contemplate such measures, especially in extreme circumstances.
So National Review is urging law-breaking at the very highest levels of government. They are urging an extra-legal, extra-constitutional apparatus to seize and torture terror suspects outside of ticking time bomb scenarios as a matter of first resort. And yes, if they are advocating it against the pantie-bomber now, days after his capture, it is a first resort.
This is how far Cheney and the pro-torture camp have moved the debate, and why Obama's calm attempt to overlook it is dangerous in the message it sends. What the Cheneyites themselves once refused to do, with Reid, they are now demanding Obama do to the pantie-bomber.
The few remaining voices on the right with any qualms about routine torture of terror suspects make their case with almost pathetic resignation. Glenn Reynolds seems to believe that openly exposing and opposing torture in a democracy is tantamount to endorsing and promoting it.
And that apparently is because it is more important to be appalled by the alleged "self-righteousness" and "self-glorification" of torture opponents than it is to be shocked at the notion of stripping a defenseless human being, freezing him to near hypothermia, shutting him in a tiny upright coffin, slamming him against walls, near-drowning him hundreds of times, subjecting him to sexual and religious abuse, hanging him from his joints and limbs in such a way as to create unbearable pain, tying him to a post in the freezing cold and repeatedly beating and hosing him with frigid water (as was done under McChrystal's command). Yes, it's a much more moral position to be pissed off by the alleged self-righteousness of Sullivan than to face and tackle and end illegal barbarism perpetrated by the government. This is now the libertarian position as Reynolds understands it. It's a pathetic rationalization of his own capitulation to raw partisanship and unchecked authoritarianism.
Charles Krauthammer, the intellectual architect of the torture regime, and as morally responsible for the torture of others as any in the former administration, argues that by treating the pantie-bomber like the shoe bomber,
we lose all access to any information which would save American lives.
All access to any information? He means that traditional and legal interrogation is useless? That only torture provides information?
Notice again how far down the slippery slope we have gone. Krauthammer's first position was that torture should be restricted solely to ticking time bomb cases in which we knew that a terror suspect could prevent an imminent detonation of a WMD. His position a few years later is that torture should be the first resort for any terror suspect who could tell us anything about future plots. Those of us who warned that torture, once admitted into the mainstream, will metastasize beyond anyone's control now have the example of Charles Krauthammer's arguments to back us up. Stephen Hayes, Cheney's stenographer along with Mike Allen, even argued on Fox News that Cheney's assault on the president as an alien threat to the American people was too soft and wanted to "squeeze" the pantie-bomber for more info. These are neo-fascist sentiments, empowering lawless violence by the government, justified solely by fear of terror incidents. Whatever else junking the entire history of Western jurisprudence and the laws of war is, it is not in any way conservative. It is a radical assault on one of the central pillars of our civilization.
Jonah Goldberg is not quite as perverse:
I'd want to know for sure whether other techniques couldn't get relevant information and I'd want a better sense that this guy knows about an imminent threat.
To which one can only hear Cheney reply: pansy! The principled position on the right with respect to torture is that opposing it is honorable, but of course supporting it is essential. The debate on the right is all but over.
If you believe in torture, support the GOP. That's what conservatism is now all about.
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