10 Nov 2005

Jonah Goldberg on the McCain Amendent

From The Corner on NRO:

As I said, I’m sympathetic to the idea of banning torture (much more so than I was a few years ago, I might add). But there’s something else that bothers me about the pro-McCain argumentation. It’s on display in this post by Andrew Sullivan. He cites Derb’s (excellent) column against torture favorably. In particular he highlights Singapore’s abuse of of a dissident. He then says:

“Those techniques – of freezing or heating detainees into despair or pain or psychological collapse – have now become part of the U.S. government’s armory. This must end. We can win this war without destroying the very civilization we are fighting for. We can win without losing our soul. Any other kind of victory is a euphemism for defeat.”
Now, just to be clear I am not taking the contrary position that we must or should use these techniques. But there are a lot of stolen bases built into Andrew’s conclusion. First, there’s the ahistorical problem I mentioned earlier. Can we stipulate that during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War One, World War Two, Vietnam etc that Americans committed some truly horrible deeds in the process of fighting those wars? John McCain’s hero — Teddy Roosevelt — applauded tactics in the Phillipines that Andrew would no doubt condemn. Did we “destroy” our civilization then? Did we “lose our soul”?

The argument that using horrible tactics will cost us everything is predicated on the assumption that such tactics have never been used. For if torture costs us our soul and destroys our civilization, how is it that we have a soul or a civilization to lose at this late date to begin with? These tactics may cause individuals — like Andrew — to lose faith in our civilization or its soul, but it is not up to him to declare such things null and void if we go another way.

Wretchard at The Belmont Club on the McCain Amendment (text here).

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