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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Andrew McCarthy's Vacuous Pro-Torture Apologetics

The conventional wisdom of conservatives in regard to the Gonzales nomination seems to be "He didn't authorize torture, but if he did, we'd support him".

During the hearings, retired military officers, scholars, and lawyers argued against the Gonzales nomination on principled grounds. To his credit, McCarthy does a fair job of summing up their case:

The trio lodged a few basic objections to Gonzales: (a) They insisted that he had retreated from what Koh insisted had been "zero-tolerance" policy regarding torture in the 1990s; (b) extrapolating from the (now retracted) August 2002 memo issued by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, they claimed that policies he advocated, or at least tolerated, would enable the United States to engage in precisely the same type of savagery as was once practiced by Saddam Hussein's sadistic regime; and (c) they contended, again drawing on the OLC memo, that Gonzales advocated a constitutional "commander-in-chief power" to override statutes and treaty obligations that would place the president "above the law."

Now these are serious charges...How does McCarthy refute them?

He Doesn't
. Instead, McCarthy shifts gears and writes,

New Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter performed his most valuable service of a very long day in about five minutes of questioning — during which he exposed the emptiness of the high dudgeon by confronting these experts with the so-called "ticking bomb" hypothetical: A bomb is about to be detonated in a major metropolitan area, likely to kill perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the military has as a captive a known terrorist who, we have reason to believe, has knowledge which would allow us to save those lives if we could get him to provide it. Are you saying, the senator asked, that torture — even in a non-lethal method, requested by a responsible high official, and perhaps even supervised by a federal court — would be absolutely impermissible? That we must stand down while those thousands are massacred?

Why was this such a valuable service? For the same reason as McCarthy's column. It changes the subject. What Specter says, reading between the lines, is: "He didn't advocate torture, but even if he did, we'd support it". They are unable to defend the indefensible--what actually happened and who was responsible for it--so they take the easy way out. The issue in the Gonzales debate is not "is torture ever permissible?", but rather, "how has the policy changed, and who is responsible for changing it?". We will never get an honest answer to this question from Gonzales, Bush, or any other Pro-Torture Republican.

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