Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keeping Score in the Torture Debate

For the last five years, we’ve been arguing about what conservatives call “enhanced interrogation” and liberals call “torture.” By now, each side has well-armored positions about the legality and morality of various interrogation techniques.  These aren’t going to change anytime soon. That’s to be expected: doctrinaire ideologues on one side of a political argument virtually never convert doctrinaire ideologues on the other side to their position. Victories/Defeats in ideological arguments are typically marked not by the losers’ concessions of defeat, but by their readiness to change the subject.

The best way to check the score on the torture debate, I submit, is to look for signs of shame on the part of the interlocutors. It was clear that liberals were taking a big lead when the Bush Administration, without conceding it's illegality or immorality, announced that it would no longer be waterboarding detainees. That wasn’t exactly a confession of error on the administration’s part, but it was a clear sign that conservatives not named Dick Cheney no longer wanted to be seen defending the grislier interrogation techniques.

How the tide’s turning. Last spring, lots of conservatives wanted to be seen counseling Cheney to keep his mouth shut. After the Fort Hood Massacre and the attempted Christmas day bombing over Detroit, they’re jumping ostentatiously on the Cheney bandwagon. It's gotten to the point where Scott Brown was publicly supporting waterboarding in the middle of last month’s high-stakes Senate campaign in Massachusetts.

This op-ed by John Yoo in today’s Wall Street Journal has all the subtlety of an end-zone celebration in the NFL. Consider its title: “My Gift to the Obama Presidency.” If anyone should be ashamed of themselves, Yoo argues, it’s the people who tried to lift his law license by turning the code of legal ethics into a partisan weapon.

It will be interesting to see how visibly liberal politicians respond.

No comments: