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The Tortured Logic of the Torture Superfans

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On average, the same number of Americans who were killed on September 11 will die from cancer over the next two days. 40,000 people this month. More than half a million throughout the course of the year.

Your chances of being killed at the hands of a terrorist, on the other hand, are comparatively remote. Some estimates show the odds at one in 9.3 million.

Why, then, are Republicans -- from the very serious moderates to the buggy-eyed Glenn Beck spasmodics -- embracing the broadly condemned and immoral act of government sponsored torture, while, often in the same talk radio segment, predicting the end of the world due to government plans guaranteeing that Americans will be able to afford healthcare? Somehow, irrational fear wins the day once again over a very rational desire to be treated for an illness without, you know, going broke.

Without explanation or logic, and following months of screeching about tea parties and tyranny and big government, the usual suspects on the right appear to be demanding that the government retain the power to do anything -- anything! -- in order to protect us from a terrorist attack. This, naturally, includes torture, but from what I'm hearing, there's no limit to what they'd allow. Whatever it takes, right? As FOX & Friends' Brian Kilmeade remarked on Monday: "It feels good" that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month. And here I thought only shiny jingly objects made Kilmeade feel good.

But it's not just Bush administration officials they're defending here. Extrapolating what the torture superfans are suggesting, they appear to believe that in light of the threat of terrorism, any administration should be able to torture, including the current president. In other words: they're simultaneously accusing President Obama of being an oppressive and tyrannical "fascist," while also insisting that he should exercise the power to do whatever he wants in order to prevent another terrorist attack. Put yet another way: unchecked government power is awful, unless Sean Hannity is scared. Then it's excellent. Put a third way: WTF?

Meanwhile, your very real fear of bankruptcy, homelessness and illness is not "my problem." You liberal pinhead you.

As closely as I've been following the wingnut right lately, their ability to contradict themselves never ceases to confound. Stir into the mix a resurgence of irrational fear harkening back to 9/11 and the incongruities multiply faster than Newt Gingrich's wives.

For example, Rush Limbaugh this week both underscored the so-called efficacy of the Bush administration's torture policy, while also downplaying it by slapping himself in the face (ostensible with the same flappy arm gesticulations he used to mock a guy's Parkison's symptoms). He's wheeled out this argument before, most memorably after the Abu Ghraib photographs went public. Downplay the severity. Torture? Feh. It's nothing! Smack-smack. Splash-splash.

But if it's nothing more than slapstick and some splashy water antics then how effective can it really be, Rush? How could something so innocuous (as described by Limbaugh and others) be even the slightest bit effective -- not to mention a crucial weapon in America's anti-terrorist arsenal? It can't be both. Either the torture methods described in the Bush Office of Legal Counsel memos were harsh enough to create adequate anguish so as to elicit actionable intelligence (as is falsely claimed by Bush Republicans) or the techniques were nothing more than comfy chairs and soft cushions.

The reality is that the Bush torture methods were both horrifying and ineffective. The procedures we've read about in the OLC memos were clearly forms of torture as have been previously defined by America's own standards (you might recognize waterboarding from such famous torturers as the Khmer Rouge, Imperial Japan and North Korea), and by most accounts they're absolutely ineffective at acquiring decent information. And in fact, as McClatchy reported on Tuesday, the Bush administration used these torture techniques to gather intentionally false information about a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

With regards to defining The Waterboard as a particularly brutal form of torture, it's well worn territory to mention how we executed Japanese war criminals for waterboarding American prisoners. However, it takes on a different and stomach-churning dimension when we read a firsthand description of how the Japanese did it:

They laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. . . . They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was almost impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water.

Compare that with the Bush OLC memo dated May 10, 2005:

In this technique, the detainee is lying on a gurney that inclined at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees to the horizontal, with the detainee on his back and his head toward the lower end of the gurney. A cloth is placed over the detainee's face, and cold water is poured on the cloth from a height of approximated 6 to 18 inches. The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult - or in some cases not possible - to breathe.

If you thought the second method was worse than the Japanese version, you're not alone. The cloth gag creates a sensation of being smothered -- on top of the drowning sensation itself. (It's also worth noting that American soldiers were court-martialed in for waterboarding Filipino prisoners. That was 1898.)

In terms of efficacy, one of the most successful detainee interrogations didn't involve torture of any kind. The detainee was named Saddam Hussein and the American interrogator was a Lebanese-American named George Piro. Piro was able to extract volumes of information about Iraq, WMD, terrorism and Hussein's regime through a process whereby Piro "manipulated Saddam, creating a relationship based on dependency, trust and emotion. Piro alternated between acts of kindness and provocation."

But even in the face of this sort of success, the Bush regime, driven by a desire for power and enabled by the irrational, ginned-up fear of a mostly supportive electorate, orchestrated one of the darkest chapters in American history.

And I'm still baffled how anyone in their right mind can possibly defend these torture policies in the face of overwhelming evidence condemning it. I mean, it's torture! Yet the right continues to chug from their bottomless mug of contradictions -- even Senator McCain, who endured unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the North Vietnamese, has fallen into this trap. Last year, in the heat of a presidential campaign, the senator voted in favor of allowing the CIA to continue to use the same techniques described in the OLC memos. Only now has he condemned the CIA's use of torture.

As I wrote in my book, if we can't protect ourselves with our morals intact, we don't deserve to be protected in the first place. I suspect that by allowing this gaping hole in our national morality, the Bush administration has successfully created more threats than it claims to have thwarted. And hearing the irrationally fear-driven arguments from unapologetic cowards like Hannity and Limbaugh understandably leads us all to think that certain Republicans will gladly acquiesce to anything -- any trespass against our values or even basic logic -- in the name of protecting you from that one in 9.3 million chance.

And no, the Dumb & Dumber "so you're saying there's a chance" defense won't work.

BobCesca.com

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