New Spins on Mukasey Testimony

The White House continues to try to spin the presumptively false testimony of Michael Mukasey before the Senate. In addition to claiming that he was answering a different question, surrogates for the Administration have presented a parade of horribles if waterboarding is confirmed as torture, including what to do with dozens of American torturers. It is an extraordinary form of argument. The President first orders criminal acts (waterboarding is unlawful under both international and domestic law) and then his supporters insist that any confirmation of this fact will put torturers at risk. In reality, these individuals will never be prosecuted in all likelihood. However, confirmation of the torture will renew calls for the impeachment of the man who ordered it.

One of the most common spins is offered by people like Andrew McCarthy, who took exception to my last column. Like many radio show hosts and conservative pundits, McCarthy warns:

American military and intelligence services reportedly use (or, at least, have used) waterboarding in their counter-interrogation training programs. Congress carved no exception into torture law for such exercises. Consequently, a conclusion that waterboarding is torture would be tantamount to a finding that our own services are committing a heinous felony, the equivalent of a war crime, against our own operatives — something I believe it is fair to say Congress cannot possibly have intended.

For McCarthy article, click here

This spin is particularly creative. Waterboarding is torture because it is the involuntary use of simulated drowning to coerce confessions or cooperation. When Navy Seals are waterboarded, it is done as a voluntary measures. Trainees are allowed to drop out of this exercise and the entire program at any time. They know that they will not be killed and that they are not at serious risk. They know their future and their rights. It is not torture any more than individuals to agree to be beaten for pleasure or on a dare.

What is interesting about these spins is that they are desperately trying to excuse the inexcusable. Waterboarding has been a torture technique since the Spanish Inquisition. We defined it as a war crime. Now, we have a president who ordered a criminal act and smart people are twisting themselves (and their morals) into knots to excuse the abuse. Even the most partisan loyalist must be able to draw a line at some point. If we are now to embrace or excuse torture, who are we?

This is not about Navy Seals or our new American practitioners of torture. It is about our commitment to the rule of law and whether we are allowed to violate the law in defense of it.