CAN RICHARD COHEN REMEMBER THE COLUMN HE WROTE TWO WEEKS AGO?

It really takes a startling lack of self-awareness to write a column about how you "know" that no longer torturing people has made America less safe, only to write another thumbsucking column a few weeks later innocently asking, "I have to wonder" whether torture works. Somehow, Richard Cohen can write several columns on the same topic without realizing he's contradicted himself.

On April 28, Cohen stated unequivocally, "[T]he debate over torture has been infected with silly arguments about utility: whether it works or not. Of course it works -- sometimes or rarely, but if a proverbial bomb is ticking, that may just be the one time it works." His argument then was based on emotionalism, not evidence -- he was angry about 9/11, so torture works. He ignored empirical evidence to the contrary.

This week, he addresses the question as though he hadn't made up his mind already. This week, he "wonders" whether torture works, when just a few weeks ago, he was adamant that it did. The debate over whether torture worked was "silly," because everyone "knows" it works. Instead, having been convinced by Cheney's performance on CBS last Sunday that there is some hidden proof of torture's efficacy -- which would, in Cohen's mind, justify its use -- he approaches the issue as though he hadn't already taken a position, so that if the documents do vouch for torture's effectiveness, Cohen can claim victory. If they do the opposite, well, then he was just "wondering."

It would be one thing if Cohen had acknowledged that his thinking on the subject had evolved, but he doesn't. He either doesn't remember, or he's willfully deceiving the reader into thinking he hasn't made up his mind in order to be more persuasive.

-- A. Serwer

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