Thursday, May 05, 2011


Years ago, torture fans used to say we needed to torture terrorist suspects in order to prevent an attack that was about to happen nownowNOW. These days, they're saying we need to torture to get information that might be useful years and years later. Conor Friedersdorf says we're experiencing "torture creep" -- though I see it somewhat differently, as I'll explain below:

Think about it: back in 2003, 2004, and 2005, the mainstream argument for torture among its advocates was "the ticking time bomb scenario." Alan Dershowitz endorsed it. Charles Krauthammer did too. It played a recurring role in countless episodes of the hit television show 24. And it proved so core to the public case for "enhanced interrogation" that torture opponents like Michael Kinsley and Dahlia Lithwick focused their efforts on pushing back against the most talked about "exception" in the nation.

The return of the torture debate is striking because its apologists no longer feel the need to advocate for a narrow exception to prevent an American city from being nuked or a busload of children from dying. In the jubilation over getting bin Laden, they're instead employing this frightening standard: torture of multiple detainees is justified if it might produce a single useful nugget that, combined with lots of other intelligence, helps lead us to the secret location of the highest value terrorist leader many years later. It's suddenly the new baseline in our renewed national argument.

That's torture creep.

The way I see it, torture is like tax cuts.

Remember the 2000 Bush campaign, when we were told that we shouldn't be collecting so much tax revenue because we were in boom times? And then remember the early days of the Bush administration, after the dot-com crash, when were told that shouldn't be collecting so much tax revenue precisely because we were no longer in boom times and needed to cut taxes to return to boom times?

That's not "creep" necessarily; it's just the standard Republican approach to political argumentation: Whatever Republicans want is the correct response to a specific set of circumstances -- and if the circumstances seem to change, why, funny thing, but what Republicans want is the correct response to those circumstances, too.


Also note the revisionism that's linked to this detail:

Two ... CIA prisoners -- Al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his successor, Abu Faraj Libbi -- gave their interrogators false information about the courier. Mohammed was waterboarded repeatedly, U.S. officials said.

Those lies also played a role in the decade-long manhunt, however. Over time, they were viewed as evidence by CIA analysts that Bin Laden's top deputies were trying to shield a figure who might be a link to the Al Qaeda leader's hide-out, according to U.S. officials briefed on the analysis. "The fact that they were covering it up suggested he was important," a U.S. official said.

See, I thought the point of waterboarding was to get people to talk. These guys were waterboarded, and now we're told that the torture technique worked precisely because they didn't talk -- it worked because they didn't spill this important secret.

Well, tax cuts are like that, too. They pay for themselves, you see, as Arthur Laffer told us. Oh, and when they don't, the government is starved for revenue -- which is precisely the tough medicine the government needs. Whatever tax cuts do is what we need. Same thing for torture.

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