Struggling Toward Consensus

Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times is morally idiocy disguised by a veneer of reasonableness. Read this incredibly stupid passage:

He wasn’t alone. A large swath of the political class wants to avoid the torture debate. The Obama administration backed into it last week, and obviously wants to back right out again.

But the argument isn’t going away. It will be with us as long as the threat of terrorism endures. And where the Bush administration’s interrogation programs are concerned, we’ve heard too much to just “look forward,” as the president would have us do. We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses – but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.

Learn, pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus? Has hundreds of years of history simply disappeared? I thought Mr. Douthat was supposed to be conservative, so it is strange that he would ignore the fact that our ancestors and recent predecessors have already figured out that torture is wrong and should be punished.

What is left to learn? Torture is cruel and ineffective. In the West, in Russia, and in the East, we see time and time again that the most effective interrogators eschew physical force and that systematic policies of torture result in false confessions. Here’s Liao-Fan in the 16th century: “Also, extreme beating can force an innocent suspect to plead guilty.” We have a long and dark history of the consequences of torture: the Spanish Inquisition, Stalin’s show trials, the Khmer Rouge.

What consensus is there to reach? That torture is wrong? That torture is brutal and immoral? One must have a malfunctioning moral compass in order to have not yet reached that conclusion.

Imagine that the President had kept slaves in the White House. Ah, but reasonable people agree that we must investigate in order to “learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.” Never mind that the issue of slavery has already been decided.

We have already learned, already passed judgment, and already struggled towards consensus. History has already passed its verdict. We have the Geneva Conventions, and Ronald Reagan signing treaties against torture. What more consensus do we need?

We need none of what Mr. Douthat urges, unless you cleave the present from the entire history of Western Civilization. We already know everything we need to know about torture. What’s needed now is punishment for war crimes.

0 thoughts on “Struggling Toward Consensus

  1. Lloyd

    I started reading Douthat’s first column with great expectation (a wish to banish the execrable ghost of Bill Kristol) and ended it in disbelief. I’ve certainly appreciated his insights, as an blogger, but this first effort is worse than flat. It does not bode well for the ‘conservative’ viewpoint at the Gray Lady.

    It’s been indeed deeply shocking (and profoundly depressing) to me that it appears the American polity has to re-debate the issue of torture. You’ve put it really well, and am going to quote you in my next post on the issue.

    My family did not take refuge in this country for THIS. I wake up every day in near despair on this account, when I realize what things have come to. Never mind the absolute necessity of prosecuting the criminal policymakers… because it engaged in torture, America has already descended into the unholy pit and is, I’m afraid, forever tarnished. (To say the least.)

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