Torture Distinctions With Differences

Created: April 17, 2009 16:23 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Greg Sargent makes a great point about the torture memos:

What was actually revealed in yesterday’s memos was the nature of the Bush administration’s efforts to legalize and justify the “harsh interrogation techniques” that we mostly knew about already. And it’s not terribly difficult to imagine why some folks would want those legal efforts kept under wraps.

That’s apropos of the chorus of Bush officials — see this Politico piece, for instance; or this Michael Mukasey/Mike Hayden op-ed — who are saying that Obama irresponsibly revealed CIA torture techniques. He revealed them, in all likelihood, because he’s forsworn them, and to move on. As Greg says, we knew most of this stuff had happened. (Obama noted the same thing yesterday.) What really rankles these people is that their ability to harmonize putting someone in a “confinement box” with insects with statutes and treaties that expressly forbid torture is now entirely on display.

Let’s put it another way. One thing that the August 1, 2002 Yoo/Bybee torture memo — the one released in 2004 — focuses on is the alleged difficulty of defining what interrogation procedures would “shock the conscience” of a reasonable individual, since that standard is rather salient when it comes to the federal anti-torture statute. By taking a deliberately agnostic stance on the prospect of ever finding such a consensus around “reasonableness” — hey, it’s a wide world out there, what shocks me might not shock you, so who’s to say — you wind up with absurdities like rubber-stamping as humane our confinement box of insects. As it happens, when a conservative friend of mine read that the Justice Department had blessed putting people in a confinement box of insects, he IM’d me to say “Holy **.” Miracle of miracles: putting someone in a confinement box of insects makes people say Holy **. We have our reasonable-individual standard reaction.

Indeed, the only person who doesn’t mind putting someone in an enclosed space with insects is [Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs.”](\)) The memos reveal that for a long time, the government of the United States adopted his moral standards. If you had been guided by that legal reasoning, you’d do whatever was in your power to keep it from the public, since you know what they’ll say.