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Monday, May 11, 2009

De-basing Torture

by digby

The argument against torture is slipping away from us. In fact, I'm getting the sinking feeling that it's over. What was once taboo is now publicly acknowledged as completely acceptable by many people. Indeed, disapproval of torture is now being characterized as a strictly partisan issue, like welfare reform or taxes.

Here's a representative exchange from Chris Matthews today in a discussion of whether or not it's a political problem for Nancy Pelosi to be seen as knowing about torture:

Chris Cillizza: There was a poll a week or two ago, an independent poll, a media poll that asked people whether what had gone on a Gitmo was torture and by a large majority people said yes. The next question was did they think that those techniques would be necessary in certain circumstances and a slimmer, but still more people said yes than no so you have this weird disconnect. People do think it is torture, but they feel like if it yeilds results that it's the right thing to do, so this is tough especially as it relates to the Democratic Party base which clearly believes that this is something that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Matthews: (to Harold Ford) ... You seem to be suggesting you can't be both tough as nails and at the same time looks as if you worry about human rights violations. Is that a problem or not?

Harold Ford: No I ... Eric Holder said this best when referring to the Ted Stevens case in the aftermath when they said they wouldn't move forward when they said the United States would not move forward. He said the most important thing in the justice department is not winning, it is justice.

So, in this sense, I think having the conversation about what happened at Guantanamo Bay, and I'm not as outraged as some about it, because I think some of those techniques were enhanced and might have risen to a level of torture, you have to remember when this was occurring, this was 2002 and 2003. The country was in a different place and a different space and if you were to say to me as an American, put aside my partisanship, that we have an opportunity to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city to prevent killings in an American city, and we have to use certain techniques, I'm one of those Americans who would have voted acertain way Chris in that polling that said it might have been torture, but I'm not as outraged.

Matthews: wait, wait. You are veering into Cheney country here.

Ford: no, no, no

Matthews: ... the destruction of an American city? What evidence did you ever have that the enemy had a nuclear weapon that could blow up an American city? That's Cheney talk. That's what he uses to justify torture. We have no evidence that any enemy of ours had a nuclear weapon.

Ford: No, no. I said if thousands of people in America ... we can play the game of associating me with one person or another. I'm just saying ..

Matthews: No but you said blow up an American city. What are you talking about?

Ford: In 2002, 2003, remember where America was. You remember our mindset. If the American people were told that there were those that might have been held at Guantanamo Bay that might have had information, after our country was attacked on 9/11, I'm certain that people would have wanted them to take those, take certain steps. I'm not arguing at all that there was evidence that that would have happened, yet Cheney has said that he hopes that all the data is released and then maybe we'll have an opportunity to see that.

Now it's true that Matthews challenged Ford, but as per usual he misses the point. He thinks the problem with Ford's point is that he used the ticking time bomb scenario when what he actually said was that the country's "mindset" determined the limits (or lack thereof) to what it could do. And ironically, Matthews off point challenge actually forced Ford to lower the stakes even more and admit that he thinks torture is justified pretty much any time people felt threatened.

Some of this probably Ford's reflexive, phony identification with "the middle" which he perceives on this topic as being pro-torture on the basis of the poll Cilizza cited. And sadly, that poll is reflective of the fact that people are starting to feel that it's not just ok to publicly support torture, but that opposing it is nothing more than dopey DFH politics.

Ford seems to think that Cheney's call to release all the CIA info will prove that his nervous nsellie-ism will be validated. I'm not so sure. But, it doesn't matter. If everyone but the "Democratic Base" has so lost all sense of decency that they think torture is a-ok, then I'm sure they won't mind if it turns out that the torture didn't work. They have bought into Cheney's "one percent solution" which holds that even if there's only a one percent chance that an America could be harmed the government must prevent it by any means necessary. It might not turn out to be real, and it could result in a terrible catastrophic blowback down the road, but nobody ever said we wouldn't get our hair mussed. And today, we have the head of the Democratic Leadership Council endorsing the logic behind it.

One hopes this will make a difference, but I doubt it. Since polls are showing that half the country thinks torture is justified, mealy mouthed politicians everywhere will be rushing to join them. There's nothing they hate more than being categorized with the DFHs.

We are in big trouble when torture becomes just another political football. It's the kind of thing that turns powerful empires into pariah nations. Why anyone thinks it's good for America for the world to perceive us as violent, pants wetting, panic artists who could start WWIII at the least sign of threat is beyond me. I certainly don't feel safer.