Tuesday, 23 November 2010

A Brief Return To Torturous Logic

Charli Carpenter does a masterful job of obliterating Marc Thiessen's latest paper-thin attempt to justify torturing one's prisoners.  The battered remnants of Thiessen's sophistry are sufficiently damaged to make piling on seem almost ungentlemanly, but even so I'd like to make one point in addition:
For the torture claim, Thiessen relies on the US definition of torture in the War Crimes Act, as well as a “common-sense definition of torture” as he put it in our panel discussion: “if you are willing to try it yourself, it’s not torture.” He also argues waterboarding can’t be torture, because it if is the military would be guilty of torturing its SERE trainees.

In making these claims, Thiessen wilfully overlooks the elements of the international torture definition that pertain to the context of torture...
I don't disagree with any of that, of course, but whilst Carpenter's factual argument is right on the money, it's the logical aspect that I think is more telling: Thiessen is arguing that we can conclude any act of personal violation does not count as torture as soon as we find a volunteer willing to undergo it.  In a country of around three hundred million people, one imagines you could find at least one American willing to undergo almost anything, especially if either offered money or told it was their patriotic duty. 

As Carpenter points out, this is in some sense a side issue, since Thiessen's argument boils down to "And even if was torture, so what", but the sheer vapidity of his attempts to cloud the issue gives a useful insight into the degree of intellectual honesty that has gone into the endeavour as a whole.

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