succumbing to peer pressure

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Egads! This morning I found myself agreeing with Andrew Sullivan! What's next?

Charles Krauthammer apparently wrote a treatise last week about why torture, in some specific instances, is defensible. Andrew Sullivan then wrote a response in The New Republic. Sure, if I were a responsible blogger I would go read the 4,000 word Krauthammer essay and however-long-Sullivan piece, but, well, I'm a grad student. So instead I'll rely on the excerpts in the Times. Krauthammer puts forth the cliched scenario of a bomb in a major American city and a terrorist in captivity whom you must make talk to find out the location of the bomb! He posits that "...there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, torture not only would be permissible but would be required." [emphasis mine] First, what the hell kind of 'rational moral calculus' reaches that conclusion? And second, history is full of examples of the plain, simple fact that torture does not produce reliable intelligence. Senator John McCain is just the most local version of this fact (although he did provide his name, rank, and serial number, beyond that he provided captors with the names of the Green Bay Packers instead of members of his squadron). All torture does is motivate victims to provide the information they think is being sought, and there is no way to determine the truthfulness or accuracy of that information. Worse yet, our current inability to present a believable, uniform opposition to torture harms what might actually help us to gain useful intelligence - our "...reputation as a repository of freedom and democracy." (Here's where I agree with Sullivan and it freaks me out) Sullivan points out that "what minuscule intelligence we might have plausibly gained from torturing and abusing detainees is vastly outweighed by the intelligence we have forfeited by alienating many otherwise sympathetic Iraqis and Afghans, by deepening the divide between the democracies, and by sullying the West's reputation in the Middle East..." Sullivan also draws a parallel with civil disobedience, which I'm not sure I entirely buy, but still makes an interesting argument - he leaves open the possibility that there may be times when torture is defensible (a possibility I still contest) but that precisely because it would mean breaking the law and suffering the consquences, it would make it an all the more defensible act. That should a president ever feel that his conscience demands he disobey a law, he must still be subject to the consequences of that action.

In other surprising reactions to today's newspaper, stupid Kristof actually made me laugh with this little bit about Bush meeting St. Peter:

"Frankly, Mr. President, here in Heaven, I say 'Merry Christmas,' but others prefer 'Happy Holidays.' Gandhi prefers it. And a Jewish rabbi told me that his family felt more comfortable with that as well..."
"But St. Peter, that's just one rabbi..."
"Whose name is Jesus."

Yeah, yeah, it's a cheap, easy shot, bringing up that pesky fact that Jesus was Jewish. But it still makes me chuckle.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sully isn't so bad. It's pretty easy to agree with him on issues like torture, civil rights, and a handful of other social issues.

He is what probably passes as a middle-of-the-road Republican these days, after all. It's about as comprehensible that you'd agree with him as you would, oh, me.

El Sid

7:58 AM  

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