Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Issue Is Torture

There is no "furor" over Dick Cheney's approval of waterboarding in interrogations. As of late afternoon on Saturday, no right-wing news outlets or bloggers have written anything about it, except that a few have briefly repeated denials already made by Cheney, Tony Snow, and Lynne Cheney. One neoconservative blogger wrote in a bit more detail, basically repeating Tony Snow's claim that "a dunk in the water is a dunk in the water" and that Cheney was not referring to or even thinking of waterboarding when he said that "a dunk in the water" was a no-brainer:

We are well on the way to a world where everyone has his "own truth" and where nothing needs to make sense. Consider Hennen's question: "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Of course he didn't really mean "a dunk in the water". We all know Hennen meant water-boarding, don't we. And Dick Cheney's reply "Well, it's a no-brainer for me. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in," really means that he wants to torture someone but can't bring himself to admit it. Whatever Cheney did mean it is obvious that whatever he said makes no difference whatsoever. If he said he was going to torture somebody that would be true. If he said he wasn't going to torture anyone that would be untrue. The point being that in certain areas of public discourse the discussion is closed.

It's interesting to consider what the reaction would have been if Cheney had said, "No I don't agree that saving lives is worth a dunk in the water. Even if I could save a thousand lives I would never dunk anyone in the water or waterboard them either." How many people would then accuse Cheney of abdicating his responsibility to defend the country. How many people, including pacifists, would actually say that even if they could save a thousand lives they wouldn't lay a hand on an al-Qaeda suspect? Even if that's what they think. Because we know that's what they think, just as Andrew Sullivan knows Cheney's mind. Or have we run ourselves into a complete circle?

Here is a dictionary definition of "dunking" [emphasis on the context-relevant definitions]:

# [noun] a basketball shot in which the basketball is propelled downward into the basket
Synonyms: shot, stuff shot

# [verb] immerse briefly into a liquid so as to wet, coat, or saturate; "dip the garment into the cleaning solution"; "dip the brush into the paint"
Synonyms: dip, souse, plunge, douse

# [verb] make a dunk shot, in basketball; "He dunked the ball"

# [verb] dip into a liquid while eating; "She dunked the piece of bread in the sauce"
Synonyms: dip

Let's look again at what Cheney said in response to Scott Hennen's question:

Q Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the Vice President "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we're party to and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.

So. Cheney is saying here that he was called "the vice president for torture" because he allowed prisoners to have their heads briefly dipped in water. Actually, the phrase Hennen used and Cheney agreed with was "a dunk in water." The actual body part dunked was not specified. So maybe Cheney meant that an arm was dunked. Or a prisoner was made to sit on the edge of a pool and dunk his toes. Whatever body part he meant, we all know that a brief immersion in water is not only not "torture," it's not any kind of "robust interrogation." And it's certainly not going to get anyone to reveal information that could "save thousands of lives."

So why the word games when the issue is that the United States government is torturing prisoners by bringing them to the brink of drowning, or making them feel that they are about to suffocate?

TPM reader DK says the White House is playing the press, again:

We're darn near six years into this nonsense, but still the White House can beat the press corps like a drum. I'm referring to Cheney's comment that waterboarding detainees was a "no brainer," which the White House has managed to turn into a story about what Cheney really said or what he really meant by what he said.

There's no legitimate doubt about what Cheney said and what he meant. Cheney knows it. The President knows it. So do Tony Snow and the whole White House press corps. Yet we have this spectacularly silly dance--clever people being too clever by half: Snow and Cheney's staff cleverly parsing the interview, and the press cleverly trying to trip up the parsers.

The whole episode has been converted from a story about torture to another in the endless series of stories about the strange relationship between the press and this White House.

The Vice President's comments came in a radio interview on Tuesday. Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers was the first to report its significance in a story late Wednesday that was straightforward and direct, unburdened by the clever word games that would come later.

The Washington Post didn't run its first story on the interview until its Friday edition. Its follow-up piece today is headlined "Cheney Defends 'Dunk the Water' Comment." I don't know how denying he meant what he said constitutes defending his own comment, unless running fast and far in the opposite direction no longer constitutes a retreat. The story also describes what it calls "ambiguities in the waterboarding debate." The "debate" referred to is not about whether torture is moral or lawful, but whether Cheney actually meant waterboarding or merely a "dunk in the water."

The New York Times' first report on the interview didn't appear until today, in a story that deals almost exclusively with Snow's Friday press conference and the fallout associated with Cheney's remarks. It's a story about the White House "fending off" questions, as if the center of gravity in this historic departure from democratic norms were the White House press room instead of the dank corners of secret prisons or the solemn enclaves of our courts.

No thinking person believes Cheney was referring to anything other than waterboarding. The White House is unable to explain what else Cheney could have been referring to. Yet the leading papers are unable to cut through the malarkey.

I suppose the only thing we work harder at being in denial about than Cheney's comments is the fact that we have used waterboarding and other forms of torture. Every thinking person knows that to be true, too, and it shouldn't take Cheney's slip of the tongue to convince us.

These are dunks in the water. This is waterboarding.

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