Archive for February, 2009

Keeping an appropriate ambiguity for one’s needs

The WSJ takes note of Congress’s Phony War on Torture and why it is sometimes convenient to maintain ambiguity.

For the past few years, no word has been more casually thrown about than “torture.” At the same time, no word has been less precisely defined. That suits Congress just fine, because it allows members to take a pass on defining the law while reserving the right to second-guess the poor souls on the front lines who actually have to make decisions about what the law means.

The idea of torture has been warped in many ways for many reasons serving political or ideological ends. In one approach its ambiguity helps to promote a moral equivalence between the U.S. and its enemies. In another, it helps to rationalize war crimes allegations. In yet another it is used to make sure that those who actually have to make a decision can make no correct decision.

If you take torture as something that leaves permanent emotional or physical scars, that it is some act on a person that you would not do to your own in training, then much of the brouhaha about torture is indeed tortured.

Of course, defining that space would require something in short supply in Washington: an adult conversation. In such a conversation, good men and women could present the case for enhanced interrogation without having their words twisted and finding themselves held up in public as latter-day Torquemadas. Such a conversation might also begin by examining the reigning assumption of today’s debate: that context and circumstances have nothing to say about what we call torture.

It will remain a convenient ambiguity for as long as the public accepts the torture of the debate’s intellectual integrity.

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