Thursday, January 31, 2008

If conservatives really, really hate being called fascists ... #2

-- by Dave

... then maybe they shouldn't talk and act like them.

Maybe they shouldn't, in the name of the "war on terror," begin condoning torture as an acceptable tactic for American military or intelligence officials.

And maybe conservatives shouldn't show such enthusiasm for the idea, either.

CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men --

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we're going to ruin people's lives over it and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?

...LIMBAUGH: You know, if you look at -- if you, really, if you look at these pictures, I mean, I don't know if it's just me, but it looks just like anything you'd see Madonna, or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe I'm -- yeah. And get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean, this is something that you can see on stage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City -- the movie. I mean, I don't -- it's just me.
Rush Limbaugh, May 4, 2004

Which brings me to this week's scandal about No Such Agency [NSA] spying on "Americans." I have difficulty ginning up much interest in this story inasmuch as I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo.
Ann Coulter, Dec. 21, 2005

It turns out that the most unpleasant aspect of life at Guantanamo for the detainees came with the move out of the temporary "Camp X-Ray." Apparently, wanton homosexual sex among the inmates is more difficult in their newer, more commodious quarters. (Suspiciously, detainees retailing outlandish tales of abuse to the ACLU often include the claim that they were subjected to prolonged rectal exams.) Plus, I hear the views of the Caribbean aren't quite as good from their new suites.

Even the tales of "torture" being pawned off by the detainees on credulous American journalists are pretty lame.

The Washington Post reported that a detainee at Guantanamo says he was "threatened with sexual abuse." (Bonus "Not Torture" rule: If it is similar to the way interns were treated in the Clinton White House.)
Ann Coulter, June 23, 2005

I don't mean to be too comedic in the political arena, but these so called abuse photos frankly are mild by comparisons to what goes on in South of Market clubs in San Francisco.

... And eventually you're gonna find that we need more of the humiliation tactics, not less. ...

I don't know what its gonna take for you to finally welcome what the troops are doing, what the interrogators were doing until you finally recognize the enemy, the true face of the enemy and what its gonna take to break this death grip that they seem to have on the minds of the Democrats. ...

These people don't fear death, they fear humiliation. The only way to humiliate them is take their deepest fear, the pig, the dog, the woman with the leash, and use it on them to break them!

... Instead of putting joysticks, I would have liked to have seen dynamite put in their orifices and they should be dropped from airplanes. How's that? You like that one? Go call somebody that you want to report me to, see if I care. They should put dynamite in their behinds and drop them from 35,000 feet, the whole pack of scum out of that jail.
Michael Savage, May 10-11, 2004

GLENN BECK: Waterboarding, everybody was on board when this particular case happened. It was effective. I don't believe waterboarding is torture. Some do. That's okay. That's a debate. But now it's being played as if it was the evil United States torturing people when everyone was on board because we thought another attack was right around the corner.

REPRESENTATIVE POE: That's correct. The people are switching sides on this very issue and many people talk about waterboarding. They don't even know what it is but they --

BECK: Do you believe it's torture?

REPRESENTATIVE POE: I don't believe it's torture at all, I certainly don't. You know --

BECK: You know, I've wondered because it does [no] physical damage. It supposedly freaks the living daylight out of you but it does no damage to you physically.
Glenn Beck and Rep. Ted Poe, Dec. 12, 2007

[A brief editorial interruption: As Human Rights Watch points out, while waterboarding can be performed in ways that do not cause lasting physical damage, it often is not. and when it is not, not only causes extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, and injuries (including broken bones) due to struggling against restraints, it can also cause death. Moreover, waterboarding victims -- like victims of all kinds of torture -- suffer psychological effects that endure for years, even decades.]
"I believe every opponent of waterboarding would use the technique if it would save their children, their spouse, their mother and father from death. So why should other people die while politicians debate ethics? In my opinion, it is immoral to allow terrorists to kill people when you can stop them. ... Opponents of tough interrogations are lost in a fog of misguided indignation, crazy with hatred for Bush."
Bill O'Reilly, Dec. 11, 2007

IFILL: I just would like to — but do you think that waterboarding, as I described it, constitutes torture?

SEN. KIT BOND: There are different ways of doing it. It’s like swimming: freestyle, backstroke. The waterboarding could be used almost to define some of the techniques that our trainees are put through, but that’s beside the point. It’s not being used.
Sen. Kit Bond, Dec. 11, 2007

"Our rules for interrogation need to catch-up with this awful new form of war that is being fought against all of us and the free world. The post-World War II standards do not apply to this new war.

"We must redefine how our lawful society treats those who have nothing but contempt for the law and rely on terrorizing the innocent to accomplish their objectives. The lines must be redrawn and then we must pursue these criminals as quickly and as aggressively as the law permits."
The Rev. Lou Sheldon, Traditional Values Coalition

Michael Mukasey: I don't think I'm saying it is simply a relative issue. There is a statute under which it is a relative issue. I think the Detainee Treatment Act engages the standard under the Constitution, which is a "shocks the conscience" standard, which is essentially a balancing test of the value of doing something as against the cost of doing it --

Sen. Joe Biden: When you say "against the cost of doing it," do you mean the cost that might occur in human life if you failed to do it, do you mean the cost in terms of our sensibilities in what we think is appropriate and inappropriate behavior as a civilized society --

Mukasey: I chose the wrong word. I meant the heinousness of doing it, the cruelty of doing it, balanced against the value.

Biden: Balanced against what value?

Mukasey: Of what information you might get.

[Via Digby; also, what she said. Meanwhile, Marty Lederman at Balkinization has more.]
The point is that terrorism has consequences beyond life and property. It requires a tightening of liberty no one desires. The prevention of terrorism prevents the need, real or perceived, for further tightening. The Pelosi cop-out is that if you’re scared and angry, you get a free pass to do things you find morally objectionable. Well, terrorism makes people scared and angry; that’s sort of why they call it “terrorism.”
Jonah Goldberg, Dec. 14, 2007

But there is no equivalent word for murder when it comes to torture. It’s always evil. Yet that’s not our universal reaction. In movies and on TV, good men force evil men to give up information via methods no nicer than what the CIA is allegedly employing. If torture is a categorical evil, shouldn’t we boo Jack Bauer on Fox’s 24? There’s a reason we keep hearing about the ticking time bomb scenario in the torture debate: Is abuse justified in getting a prisoner to reveal the location of a bomb that would kill many when detonated? We understand that in such a situation, Americans would expect to be protected. That’s why human-rights activists have tried to declare this scenario a red herring.

Sullivan complains that calling torture “aggressive interrogation techniques” doesn’t make torture any better. Fair enough. But calling aggressive interrogation techniques “torture” when they’re not doesn’t make such techniques any worse.
Jonah Goldberg, Sept. 27, 2006

The issue here is context. Coercion of the sort we’re discussing is used by good guys and bad guys alike — in films and in real life. Just as with guns and fistfights, the morality of violence depends in large part on the motives behind it (that’s got to be one of the main reasons so many on the left oppose the war: They distrust Bush’s motives. Very few of Bush critics are true pacifists).

American audiences — another word for the American public — understand this. A recent poll by AP-Ipsos shows that some 61 percent of Americans believe torture can be justified in some cases. Interestingly, roughly half of the residents of that self-described “moral superpower” Canada agreed, as did a majority of French citizens and a huge majority of South Koreans.
Jonah Goldberg, Dec. 9, 2005

You see, if conservatives were serious about not wanting to be mistaken for fascists, they'd not only eschew such talk, they would denounce it.

There are many reasons to associate torture, and the public acceptance of its use, with fascism. When movement conservatives become defenders and advocates of the practice, people tend to just naturally think -- Fascist!

And for good reason:
It's not that torture is unique to fascism. It has, after all, been around since the Dark Ages, and remained alive as a component of theocratic and feudal states for centuries. Certainly it has always been a commonplace feature of communist regimes as well, with the Soviets and Chinese providing abundant examples. What can be said generally is that torture is a feature of totalitarianism, regardless of its content.

But it occupies a unique position in the fascist ideological hierarchy, which is, after all, not so much a cohesive ideology but a multifaceted pathology. What makes fascism so potent on a personal level is its psychosexual component, expressed mostly as a desire to purge "unhealthy" elements through eliminationist violence, including the control of the body of the Other, and the ability to inflict purgative pain and suffering on that body. (For more on this, see Klaus Theweleit's study of this aspect of fascism, Male Fantasies, especially Vol. II.)

Fascists are particularly fond of torture because it represents such a complete expression of the fascist will to power. So when a nation adopts torture as an officially condoned policy -- as the United States has just done -- it immediately raises the specter that, indeed, it may be descending into the fascist abyss.

Of course, beyond its mere fascist qualities, there are many other good reasons for thinking, decent Americans to stand their ground on the use of torture.

For starters, there are serious practical reasons not to condone torture, the most obvious being that it encourages and induces similar treatment for American prisoners.

More significantly, torture is obviously immoral, and its open embrace by conservatives reflects more on the black hole that is their movement's soul than their actual desire to "keep the nation secure." The same can be said of the nation's media, who have stood silently by while these practices became imbedded in the system.

Movement conservatives have lost sight of what the norms of human decency are when they condone torture and the abrogation of both national and international law in the process. As the late Joan Fitzpatrick put it:
The prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law binding on all nations. The torturer is the enemy of all mankind.

The same, it could be said, is true of the fascist. Indeed, torture (like eliminationism) is one of the real harbingers of fascism. And it's the words and actions of conservatives themselves that make the connection between the two in people's minds.

[A note explaining this series.]

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