On the American Takfiris.

If you haven't yet read Adam's fantastic post over at the Atlantic, you should do so now. Here's an excerpt:

The torture memos--indeed, all of the pro-torture arguments rest on a
similar intellectual themes to the takfiris. Suspected terrorists are
"illegal enemy combatants", outside the framework of laws that would
otherwise guide us. Just as the takfiris justify the killing of even
self-identified Muslims by excommunicating them as "infidels", torture
apologists argue that even American citizens like Jose Padilla who are
accused of being terrorists become legal "apostates" without any rights
the president is bound to respect.

No matter what your ideology, if you pay attention to politics you'll find a lot to be angry about. But I don't know that anything in my years of awareness has made me more disgusted than the way so many people, including so many influential people, became advocates of torture in the months and years following September 11. We were told so many times that "9/11 changed everything," but I can't help but wonder whether their eagerness for torture was there all along, and they just needed an excuse to feed their bloodlust.

What we've seen over and over again is that the practical arguments in favor of torture turn out to be bogus, so much so that its advocates feel the need to invent torture successes that never happened. And once those practical justifications fall away, we're left with their appalling moral claims that, for instance, if the waterboarding we used is slightly different than the waterboarding used during the Spanish Inquisition, then we're not really torturing people. Or if the sleep deprivation the Soviets found so effective in the Gulag doesn't leave a mark, well, no harm, no foul. Now we learn that John Yoo, on whom the Bush White House relied for legal advice, believes that if the president wanted to order a village full of civilians to be massacred, he could do it. This is the same man who, when asked if it would be legal for the president to order that a child have his testicles crushed as part of the parent's interrogation, replied, "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that." No doubt many of his former colleagues and their supporters agree, so long as the person being tortured is a "bad guy." When we successfully gain information from suspects without torturing them -- for instance, as the current administration has from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab -- you can feel their disappointment that things weren't more brutal.

We should be appalled that we're even having this argument. It doesn't matter whether you find powerful people who agree with you, or whether you can get your views published in high-profile places like the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, or whether you once held an influential job -- if you advocate torture, you are a monster.

-- Paul Waldman

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