Saturday, April 25, 2009

We're All Torturers Now:

After Abu Ghraib, the idea that prisoners could be stripped naked and humiliated, or terrorized by dogs, or piled up like Tinkertoys, was not just in the backs of our minds but also back on the table. Less than two years after we learned of the goings-on at Abu Ghraib, Congress had passed legislation legalizing many of the "alternative interrogation tactics"—the stress positions and sexual humiliations—that had so offended us months before. Prisoner abuse that flattened us in 2004 was normalized to the point that it was open to political debate only a year later. And once you have been desensitized to hoodings and nudity, is a little simulated drowning or being bounced off a wall really all that much worse?

The MPs caught abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib later claimed that they did so because they were merely following orders from superiors, orders to "soften up" the detainees who would then be more amenable to interrogation. I keep wondering whether they inadvertently softened up the rest of us as well. We have become so casual about torture that we now openly debate its efficacy—something nobody would have dared do in the first days after Abu Ghraib. The fight playing out between the left and the right now isn't "Did we water-board?" We already knew we did. It is barely even "Was it legal?" Virtually nobody seriously argues that it was. The fight we are having in America now is "Did it work?" And if we manage to persuade ourselves that torture does work, whether it's legal or even moral will no longer matter. And such tactics will never be able to horrify us again.

12:19 PM