Comment of the Day: A Welcome Voice from Liberty Papers Past

Re: Mancow gets waterboarded

It’s always a treat to hear from Eric, the founder of The Liberty Papers. Its comments like this one which make me miss his “grumbles.” This comment was in response to a discussion sparked by Stephen Gordon’s post concerning waterboarding:

Interesting discussion. Chris has a very valid point about altering the meaning of the language. He also points out that waterboarding is a form of coercion and that coercion should not be used on prisoners. But, in the heated and traumatic rejection of his assertions about what torture is, the more important point he makes is lost.

The point is, coercive interrogation is wrong to do to someone who we hold prisoner. Chris said that loud and clear, but folks are so incensed that he might not agree that something is torture that they miss the fundamentally more important point. Another fundamentally important issue, if you believe in The Rule of Law, is that we don’t have clear laws on what to do with terrorist combatants and that poses a problem. One of the keys to solving the problems of piracy in the 17th and 18th centuries was to promulgate clear, consistent, logically and legally sound laws and regulations for dealing with pirates.

We don’t have that for terrorists today, and that’s a problem.

P.S. adding to the point about use of language. We used to know that torture meant causing permanent injury to someone. When we talked about the police giving someone the “third degree”, it meant physically injuring someone to coerce them to do something. The reason we said “third degree” is that there were three levels of Inquisition used during the Catholic Inquisition.

1st Degree – Discussing the crimes someone is accused of and informing them that stronger methods of inquisition can be used if they don’t cooperate

2nd Degree – Showing the accused person the methods that can be used, like racks, knives, flails and other implements of torture

3rd Degree – Actually using those implements on the accused person, i.e. the Third Degree of Inquisition.

So, the very tortured definitions of torture that folks are trying to come up are actually changing the meanings of the language in ways that support the individual’s position. This is something that Orwell argued strenuously against and that most “libertarians” argue against, as well. Except, it seems, when being for it supports their personal beliefs.

Causing PTSD does not automatically make something torture. PTSD can be caused by a car accident, by seeing your sibling die, by participating in violent combat and many other things. None of which are “torture”. I suggest that we should return to the traditional definition that doing things which would be considered “the third degree” is torture. Let’s use the language right. AND we can still agree that things which are not torture, but are inhumane or coercive, or both, are wrong for US interrogators to do to our prisoners.

Comment by Eric — June 5, 2009 @ 8:24 am