05/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Boehner's blunder

It's telling that in a news conference today John Boehner, the House Minority Leader, referred to some of the Bush Administration's terrorist-suspect interrogation methods as "torture"--as reported just now on the Huffington Post by Ryan Grim. Boehner uses this honest word as part of a defense of these methods, but the diction says more than the defense--a point that Grim has rightly seized on as the real news from the press conference. Boehner is not lying on my analytic couch, thank God, and my guess is that he is not lying on anyone else's analytic couch, either, unfortunately--as he is a politically benighted man and also seems singularly sour and joyless--but his use of "torture" was an
ur-Freudian slip of the tongue. It shows a man in moral conflict about these methods, whether or not he would admit to or is even conscious of that conflict, because it is an inescapably horrific and negative word, no matter how couched and cushioned it may be by its surrounding rationalizations, and the law says that the practice of torture is a crime.
Almost as telling, in another way, is the word "tecnhiques," as used by Boehner in this instance and by many others on this subject in many other instances. It is a word that implies finesse and expertise, if not actual art, and it is a chilling unconscious effort to normalize and cosmeticize the awful and gross reality of real-world torture. "Methods" and "practices" seem more straightforward. And "torture" standing on its own two monstrous feet without any other noun following it would be more straughtforward yet. You don't need to go to school to know how to torture. To imply otherwise is to torture our language.