“Torture” seems to be the topic of the week.
In all this “debate” it is important to keep in mind that we are really discussing at least three connected but distinct issues (none of which is what the U.S. did, a set of interrogation acts no longer in dispute).
Issue one is whether or not the U.S. sanctioned and committed acts of “torture” in the legal sense of the word. This is a legal debate, one hinging on the interpretation of both domestic and international law. Regardless of what that answer is, another issue is whether or not these practices were a good idea. This is the debate about what information they yielded, whether that information could have been obtained through other means, and, considering how it was obtained, whether or not it could be trusted. A corrollary of this debate is the “cost” of such practices. Does their use weaken our public image? Does it put future U.S. prisoners at greater risk?
The final issue, and the most important from my perspective, is whether or not these acts are ethical. This is not a crude “ends versus means” debate. No matter what the answer is to both of the above sets of questions, this is about power, humanity, and maybe even morality.
Seeing both the intersections and the distinctiveness of these related debates is the only way for this moment to be useful. This is the only way for it to have a lasting, historical impact. The technique of blurring these lines—one currently being employed by Dick Cheney in his almost daily interventions into the public discourse—is, I believe, the technique of maintaining the status quo. It limits our ability to act in relation to answers we have to any one of them by creating a false sense of singular simplicity, letting any answer to any element of any of the debates stand in as “conclusive.”
Even if successful, there may be a bright side: the fact that Dick is leading the “defense of torture” side of the debate speaks volmes about “the Right’s” current state of upheaval.