Bob Barr on Torture


Libertarian ex-congressman and ex-U.S. Attorney Bob Barr participates in a monster Washington Monthly essay package about torture. Everyone they tapped, from Gary Hart to John Kerry to Barr, is against torture, no exceptions. Writes Barr:

No less an upholder of the law than the attorney general of the United States, Michael Mukasey, sets almost as low a standard for the concept of the rule of law as do Messrs. Cheney and McConnell. For the attorney general, the answer to the question of whether waterboarding (and, by clear implication, other techniques inflicting pain as a tool with which to elicit information from a detainee) constitutes torture and would therefore be unlawful lies neither in clear definitions nor in definite standards. For Mukasey, it all depends on the "situation's circumstances." Mukasey refused to answer questions about waterboarding during his 2007 confirmation hearings, but has since determined that the CIA does not engage in the practice. And that, for the nation's top law enforcement officer, is the end of the matter. Everything beyond that is simply speculative and hypothetical.

This administration has gone beyond even the Bizarro World standard of declaring up to be down or left to be right. Not only is torture not torture, but there exists insufficient clarity even to know what is torture so we can determine whether an interrogation technique is torture or not. While the extreme sophistry and word gamesmanship practiced to a fine art by this administration might make a high school debating coach proud, it does great disservice to the notion that we exist in a society in which there are rules and norms of behavior with clarity and definitiveness and in which government agents as well as the citizenry are held to standards of behavior. This is not something of which we as Americans should be proud, and the use of torture will come back to haunt us in ways this administration apparently either doesn't realize or simply doesn't care about.

Not the first time this argument's been rolled out, but I like how it's put. I'm less impressed by the offering of William Taft IV.

When the subject is torture, opera fans like me think of Puccini's Tosca, in which the hero, Cavaradossi, is tortured for refusing to reveal the hiding place of a colleague.

At least I understand why the mag rejected my essay, which began: "When the subject is torture, Motown fans like me think of the opening of the Jacksons' Victory, in which the heroes, Michael and Jermaine, are tortured for losing the loves of their lives."