Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Our Tortured Silence"

I see that Evangelical Outpost has popped on my site meter in relation to a post that Joe Carter did on torture. Actually, he did more than one. So, since Tblog has cropped up in the context of his discussion (possibly in the combox), I’ll take the occasion to respond.

Let me say at the outset that Joe Carter is one of the good guys. I have no doubt that he’s a much better person than I am. I’d add that his blog moves in a far higher orbit than little ol’ Tblog. In his original post on the subject, he made to basic claims:


During the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on his nomination as attorney general, Michael Mukasey was asked "Is waterboarding constitutional? Mukasey answered: "I don't know what is involved in the technique. If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional."

Since Michael Mukasey is unsure, let me clear it up for him: Yes, waterboarding is torture. And torture should never be legal.
Even more disturbing than the idea that a future attorney general doesn't know what's involved in waterboarding is that we live in an age when a familiarity with torture techniques is to be expected of our leaders. How did we get to the point where such a question needs to be asked of an attorney general?


Other issues aside, I think this is a naïve interpretation of Mukasey’s answer. I suspect that Mukasey does have an opinion, but he’s being evasive—for two reasons:

i) The Democrats don’t want to have a serious debate over interrogation. They simply want to trap a nominee into making a “damning” admission which will give them the pretext they’re angling for to vote him down.

Their tactic is simple: waterboarding is torture, torture is wrong, any nominee to thinks that waterboarding (=torture) is permissible is unacceptable—end of story.
So one reason Mukasey is being evasive is that he’s not going to walk into their trap.

ii) In addition, I also suspect that he doesn’t want to tie the hands of the administration. He wants to leave the options open.

So, it strikes me as politically naïve for Joe to think that Mukasey doesn’t have an opinion on the subject. My guess is that he does have an opinion on the subject, but he won’t allow himself to be ambushed by the opposition, or preclude what may be a useful technique in counterterrorism.



Who allowed our country to succumb to such fear and moral cowardice that we parse the the meaning and definition of "torture?"

I blame myself, and implicate my fellow Christians. We have remained silent and treated an issue once considered unthinkable--the acceptability of torture--like a concept worthy of honest debate. But there is no room for debate: torture is immoral and should be clearly and forcefully denounced. We continue to shame ourselves and our Creator by refusing to speak out against such outrages to human dignity.

(How degraded has conservatism become? Consider: Historically, a utilitarianism-embracing Benthamite like Murdock used to be a prime target of conservative criticism. Today, he gets to be regular contributor to Human Events and National Review Online.)

As Christians we must never condone the use of methods that threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the person created in the image of God. Murdock may believe there is nothing “repugnant” about waterboarding. But there is something clearly repugnant about our unwillingness to distance ourselves from the fear-driven utilitarians willing to embrace the use of torture.


I don’t know why Joe thinks this is supposed to be the least bit convincing to anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Indeed, he even admits that any attempt to use rational persuasion at this juncture is simply beyond the pale—“not a concept worthy of honest debate…There is no room for debate.”

Needless to say, that’s not how you win an argument or change any mind.s Unfortunately, what Joe is doing here is not to reason with those who disagree with him, but to shame them into submission through rhetorical intimidation.

By and large, there’s been a concerted effort to stampede Christians into acquiesce on this issue. The philosophy of the opponents seems to be:

If we use enough lame arguments, and use them often enough, we can win the debate without winning the argument.

They deploy a battery of question-begging assumptions, prejudicial labels, dogmatic assertions, moralistic adjectives, and sheer emotionalism in lieu of rational or exegetical argumentation.

Incidentally, even if Joe thinks that “torture” is “not a concept worthy of honest debate,” that is not a reason to refrain from debating it.

We could say, with far more justification, that homosexual ordination isn’t worthy of debate—but that doesn’t prevent Bible-believing opponents of homosexual ordination from marshalling their arguments against it.

The most valuable result of Joe’s piece was the response to it in the combox. And I’d say that, generally speaking, those who disagreed with him were far more reasonable than those who agreed with him.

Subsequently, Joe did a follow-up piece in which he attempted to make an actual case for his position. I’d just say that I’ve encountered all these arguments before, and responded to all of them at one time or another.

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