The meaning of the word

Defining “torture” at Back Talk gets into the problem when the meaning of words is twisted in order to fit a desired viewpoint.

I think it was Wittgenstein who once said that language can bewitch the intelligence, and it is certainly that way with respect to the language of torture. Words do not have meanings in and of themselves. Instead, they have meaning to the extent that we agree on the word’s referent.

As an example, he uses the al Qaeda interrogation guidebook for a description of what could be a good referent for torture that could have wide agreement. It is on the other end, finding something that can be generally agreed upon as ‘not torture’ that seems to be a problem.

just as a flat rock does not magically become a table if we force others to suppress their opposition to using the word in that fashion, waterboarding does not magically become torture if we shame everyone into remaining silent about their objections to using the word “torture” for that method of interrogation.

The issue isn’t so much as one of defining whether a particular technique is or is not torture, it is that you can’t discuss it with some people. They have defined words to fit something other than reasoned discourse and an effort to find a basis in differences of opinion. In doing so, they show they are trying to fit an ideology into a reality.

In cases like this, and there are many, there is no right answer. Even so, as a legal matter, the line needs to be drawn. Drawing the legal line is the job of our elected representatives. That’s why I consider George Bush to be a serious participant in this debate and consider most Democrats to be nonserious hysterics. From the beginning, George Bush has been clear that he supports the use of harsh interrogation techniques like this, that he does not consider these techniques to be torture, that he understands how others could disagree, and that he wants congress to clearly draw the line so that CIA interrogators would know what techniques they could use without placing themselves in legal jeopardy. Until now, however, Democrats were much more interested in pointing the accusing finger at Bush and portraying him as supporting “torture.” They wanted to apply the word “torture” to waterboarding so they could then accuse Bush of being “no better than the terrorists.” That political game works (i.e., in a time of war, the Democrats succeeded in their effort to tarnish their own president in the eyes of the nation and the world), but it is not a serious approach to the problem. Obviously, drawing the line at waterboarding is infinitely better than drawing the line at “severing limbs.”

The latest step in this effort is to actually try to criminalize differences of opinion with steps like ‘truth commissions’ that sound more like a third world regime than of an educated and experienced democracy or republic. It worries some.

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