Bing West, via Max Boot, argues that the outrage over waterboarding is being blown out of proportion:

"In my book, The Village, I described how in 1966 the police chief Thanh of Binh Nghia village used what is now called waterboarding, rubbing lye soap into a wet cloth and placing it across the face of the prisoner. (p. 67). I never saw a prisoner die or not be able to walk out of that room. But they talked. I reported it and our orders were to keep the Marines in our Combined Action Platoon out of that room. The PFs were under our command, but not the National Police.

Today, 40 years later, the order would be for the American adviser to physically stop Thanh and to bring him up on charges."

It might interest West and Boot to know that there is a substantial amount of research, some might even call it a "scholarly consensus," that suggests that the Vietnam war was not a resounding American success, and thus "They did it that way in Vietnam!" does not constitute an effective argument for doing it that way in Iraq, or anywhere else.

That aside, Boot takes West's argument to a disturbing place:

"Our advisers in Iraq don’t have the same option of turning a blind eye. As West notes: “Today, 40 years later, the order would be for the American adviser to physically stop Thanh and to bring him up on charges.” As West notes, that is a misguided attempt to impose our cultural norms elsewhere—you might even call it “cultural imperialism.”

Astonishing. Starting from the racist assumption that "torture is normal in their culture," Boot suggests that those who oppose the use of torture by Iraqis on Iraqis for the purpose of maintaining an American military occupation in Iraq are guilty of "cultural imperialism." I believe we've moved beyond mere "mumbo-jumbo," and into the realm of "mumbo-pocus." It's worth noting the clear echoes of old-timey colonialist propaganda in Boot's appeal to Western cultural prejudices to defend brutality which supports Western policy goals, however, charging people who oppose this with being the real "imperialists" is, as far as I can tell, Boot's own special contribution to the genre.

--Matthew Duss

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