The Eclectic One

…Because labels are a poor substitute for thinking

Exposing The False Analogies Of The Torture Apologists

Posted by Bill Nance on May 8, 2009

David Harsanyi has written a piece in Reason Magazine defending the Bush Administration’s use of torture with the pathetic canard that Harry Truman’s decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also war crimes.

To quote Harsanyi:

In fact, if Barack Obama believes, as he recently stated, that the nation “lost its moral bearings” under his predecessor, he will have a hard time defending any presidency.
After all, if waterboarding is a war crime, the dropping of an atomic bomb on a few hundred thousand innocent civilians surely deserves some serious consideration for rebuke. At the very least, it’s a fair topic for discussion.

No, actually it’s not a fair topic.  It’s what the torture apologists have been doing for years now, which is to throw up as much distraction and excuse making as possible to somehow get away from the crimes that were actually committed.

As to Truman, the decisions taken 60 years ago about whether it was moral or not to incinerate those two cities, in the enemy territory of a belligerent power bears no relation whatsoever to the deliberate policy of torture of captive human beings by the United States government in the 21st century.

I highly recommend Oliver Kamm’s impassioned and extraordinarily well-researched articles on the subject of the bombings. Kamm has done an excellent job refuting the far-left’s attempts at revisionist history on the matter. The bombs were dropped for exactly the reasons stated by Truman and others at the time. The Japanese were making no attempts whatever to surrender under anything like the terms the allies had insisted upon for years. The alternative to the bombing was a land invasion of Japan, which would have cost many hundreds of thousands of American lives, and certainly a death toll in the millions for the Japanese people. Alternatively, a blockade would have certainly caused the death by starvation of millions of civilians. -Hardly a humane alternative.

But back to the subject at hand, I think the most patently offensive lines in Harsanyi’s article were these:

It’s fun to be idealistic in a world of moral absolutes. I know because I’m a columnist. But when we start discussing history, things always seem to get complicated.
The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart learned this recently when debating the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ president, Cliff May, about the harsh interrogation techniques administered during the George W. Bush administration.
When May asked Stewart whether he also considers Harry Truman to have been a war criminal for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the host answered yes. A few days later, however, Stewart apologized for his blasphemy, saying Truman’s decision was, in fact, “complicated.”
Things were indeed complicated. They are always complicated.
That’s the point.

What’s so offensive about that little quip is that the clear intention is to tell people rightfully horrified at the torture of captives that because ethical decisions in wartime are “complicated” we have no right to judge. It echoes Peggy Noonan’s disgusting comments suggesting we should simply “keep walking”  without holding people accountable for egregious crimes -A position she did not hold as I recall, when Bill Clinton was being impeached for lying about who he was fucking. Of course it also attempts to make the ludicrous excuse for ethical reasoning that because decisions may have been wrongly taken in the past, it excuses acts taken today.

What Harsanyi is really asking, and I find it difficult to grasp how he could with any honesty,  is whether a act of war taken against a hostile foreign power can somehow be equated with the treatment of helpless captives. To compare these two things is, I think deliberately obfuscatory.  The act of bombing those two cities first, lets remind everyone, caused far less death than the firebombing of Tokyo. You are no more or less dead from a nuclear bomb than you are from being asphyxiated from smoke, more more or less injured through horrendous burns from phosphorus of burning wood than from radiation burns. So you’ll forgive me I hope in giving Hiroshima and Nagasaki no more credit for suffering than Tokyo.

From an ethical standpoint, the question is whether an act which was intended not to deliberately kill people, but to stop a war, is morally equivalent to an act which by it’s very nature is intended to cause as much suffering as possible to a helpless captive. Again. The bombing of cities in the Second World War was intended to stop a war. Civilian casualties were a by-product and consequence the the actions taken towards that goal, not the intended goal in and of itself. This follows the proportionality argument of Just War theory. One can argue that it crossed the line (I do not think it did) but one cannot reasonably argue that the intent was clearly to do so.

When you torture someone in your custody, the goal itself is suffering. You cannot possibly make a plausible argument that your goal is to end a war. At best you can make the very lame argument that you are trying to further your war aims through intelligence gathering. The suffering of a non-combataant is not merely a by-product, it is the specific intent.

The goal and intent in the WWII of bombing a city was to destroy economic and military capacity, to weaken the will of the enemy to continue to wage an aggressive war and force a peace as soon as possible. The consequence was suffering. The two things are not remotely the same thing and Harsanyi should know that. This is ethics 101 stuff.

And to reiterate what so many seem to forget, waterboarding is the least of the crimes committed against helpless captives by the Bush Administration.

The report recently released by the International Committee of the Red Cross can be found here.

That report and other documents released by the Obama Administration as well as the testimony of military interrogators, FBI agents, former prisoners and lawyers gives a grim picture of the techniques used on a wholesale basis against detainees in U.S. and U.S.-controlled facilities all over the world. From Bagram AB Afghanistan, to Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and even the US Navy brig in South Carolina, these are some of the things the Bush Administration ordered:

  1. Stripped naked and shackled into a fetal position for days at a time, while the air conditioning was turned down to low as to deliberately induce hypothermia for many hours, perhaps even days at a time.
  2. Chained and shackled in stress positions for many hours at a time, inducing agonizing muscle cramps, often in hot-boxes, which heated up well over 100 degrees with no fresh air.
  3. Shackled naked in a fetal position on the floor and left to shit and pee all over themselves for weeks at a time, smeared with fake blood and subject to “grooming sessions” by guards.
  4. Deprived of all visual and sound inputs for weeks at a time

These are torture methods. They all, without exception, go back centuries and have been used by the Gestapo, the Japanese in WWII, the KGB, the Viet-Cong and the North Koreans among others. They are deliberately meant to break a human being’s spirit, producing short or long-term insanity and utter degradation of the person, not to mention excruciating pain. Compared to a long regimen of these tortures, waterboarding is trivial.

The techniques described above were used on a systematic basis not against “high value” detainees, but on literally hundreds of prisoners, exactly how many we may never know. The U.S. Military admits that over a thirty people have died from Homicide in U.S. custody as a result of their treatment at our hands. Other reports show the numbers ranging between 54 and over 100.  Let’s get that straight shall we? It is likely that at least 100 people in U.S. Custody have been tortured to death.

Enough with the apologists and obscurantists. We must have a full accounting. And at the very least, those persons who made policies need to be exposed as the war criminals they are. The rightful place of Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Bybee and any other persons involved in the setting opf this policy, no matter what political party, is in front of a jury.


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