More About Torture
Yesterday, I wrote a post about the morality of torture, and the feasibility of prosecuting former Bush officials who may have tortured Al-Qaeda detainees. Any questions regarding torture are inevitably difficult, and the answer depends in large part on one’s personal moral views. So liberals and conservatives disagree on this issue, and while there is a right answer (unless you believe that morality is relative), there is no easy one.
Liberals (who usually believe that torture is always wrong) are actually closer to the truth on this issue (in my opinion) than conservatives (who typically think torture can be justified). They are quite correct in pointing out that the ends do not justify the means, and that torture is an immoral means. So the Left has it right on this issue, at least regarding the big picture.
It’s the Left’s application of this principle that is a little disturbing. In the eyes of many liberals, torture is perhaps the worst crime imaginable. Keith Olbermann has called on Barack Obama to prosecute Bush for torture, comparing the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh-Mohammed with slavery, Jim Crow, and McCarthyism. And while many people laugh at Keith Olbermann, it’s worth remembering that he is taken quite seriously in liberal circles.
The liberal megablog the Huffington Post has eighteen pages of posts tagged with the word “torture.” It has fourteen pages for “abortion”. “Rush Limbaugh” gets thirteen pages, while “stimulus” gets just four pages. Even “US economy” (which has got to be the broadest possible category) gets only twenty-four pages, just six more than “torture.” Most of what the stuff HuffPo’s writers have to say about torture (it’s horrible, we’re losing face with the rest of the world, Bush should be impeached/prosecuted) isn’t that remarkable—but they can’t stop writing about it.
It’s easy to find more examples of the Left’s fixation with torture—it’s one of the most commonly discussed topics on any liberal forum or blog. And this obsession is a bit perplexing.
Part of it, of course, stems from the natural desire to score political points. Torture is not something most people like to think about, and it represents an easy way to make George W. Bush look bad. And allegations that the Bush Administration violated the Geneva Conventions are embarrassing to Republicans, if untrue (whatever happened in Guantanamo Bay, it wasn’t a violation of the Geneva Conventions—Al-Qaeda detainees do not fulfill the criteria for prisoners of war). So some of the Democrat obsession with torture arises from simple partisan politics.
But a part, I think, comes from something a bit deeper. Liberals don’t like the idea of torturing radical Muslim terrorists, but they hate the idea as much because of the treatment of radical Muslims as for the moral dimension of torture. It would be a stretch to say that liberals (some, of course, not all) root for the terrorists—but then, it would be equally difficult to say that those liberals root for the U.S.
This moral ambivalence doesn’t come from hatred of America, but rather from guilt. These liberals have an intensely Amerocentric view of the world, in which everything that happens—good or bad—stems directly from U.S. action. So these people think that, if terrorism exists, the U.S. must some how be responsible. So in this view of torture, torturing Khalid Sheikh-Mohammed was, in effect, punishing someone else for our mistakes.
It’s this attitude towards America that explains why liberals see mistreating Khalid Sheikh-Mohammed as something unimaginably evil, while somehow managing to find room for understanding towards Hamas. In this view—not only is the United States to blame for any torture it commits, but also for the necessity of any torture it commits.