A torture debate reduced to semantics

Senator John McCain had another of those moments last week in which one is tempted to entertain doubts about where he’s really coming from – whether he’s to be lumped in with many of his rabidly right GOP mates or should be given consideration as one of the middle-course and even liberal-leaning Republicans of yesteryear. The occasion was release of the Senate’s report on the resort to alleged torture methods by intelligence personnel in the interrogation of detainees suspected of terrorist activity. Unlike the uproar of opposition from the Republican ranks against release of the report and their solid defense of whatever methods were employed by American interrogators, McCain, the onetime P.O.W, parted dramatically from his colleagues, taking a strong stand that the use of what the C.I.A called “enhanced interrogation techniques” was counter-productive.

McCain has of course shown us a whole lot that is the antithesis of what it means to be of progressive bent. First and foremost probably being his reflexive reach for a military solution to any problem in which this country is involved, and even when it isn’t. His constant flailing away at Obama administration foreign policy moves, domestic issues as well, and his selection of Sarah Palin as running mate when he was the GOP nominee in 2008 all neatly fit the profile of a red state (Arizona) Republican. And yet, there’s his name on campaign finance reform legislation, hardly a GOP must-do item; there he was, while on the stump during his presidential run, correcting a woman who was ready to brand Obama a Muslim and who knows what else; and here he is now, distancing himself from torture methods of which his confederates think: no harm, no foul.

To no one’s surprise, assuming a place at the front of the line in bashing release of the Senate report and what it contains is the individual who reportedly polls as the most despised political figure in the country. Dick Cheney, who is all gung-ho about sending men and women off to war but was an ace at himself avoiding any military service obligation, called the report a “bunch of crap.” Vehemently contradicting the view held by McCain and others, he is four-square behind waterboarding and other heinous tactics utilized in the questioning of terror suspects.

Given his role as one of the prime architects of an Iraq war that stands as one of the biggest foreign policy faux pas ever, consequently kick-starting so much of the terrorism-driven turmoil that now roils the international community, it is an effrontery without equal that Cheney must possess to be offering himself, ad nauseam, for media exposure as a world affairs authority. Even more incongruous that there are media folk interested in what this twerp is always ready to yak about. How could Cheney smugly assuring that the U.S. military undertaking in Iraq would be over “in weeks” not give media people pause?

There are others, not necessarily at the level of Cheney’s toxic presence, who take issue with the notion that, whatever the urge to adopt tactics that trend toward the barbaric, the U.S. must remain steadfast in its determination not to compromise its moral code on the use of torture. Some would argue that the sickening horror that was 9/11 changed the rules…at least caused them to be temporarily laid aside. And one understands why such an argument would find resonance even among folk committed to the moral high ground. Still, strict adherence to such markers of the country’s humanity is to be admired. And those, like President Obama and chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein, who say of the use of torture, “That’s not who we are,” hardly deserve being pilloried as enemies of the state by the likes of Cheney, for holding fast to those values.

In truth, the issue here shouldn’t be whether or not the CIA should have gone the route it did with those detainees. Details of some of the interrogation tactics employed make for ugly reading: sleep deprived for over a week; confinement in a coffin-sized box for days on end; being threatened with a gun and power drill; an eye so badly damaged, necessitating surgical removal; etc. But if, in a post-9/11 environment, such beyond-the-pale measures are embraced by some as a justifiable harshness, responding in kind to vermin types hell-bent on untold evil becomes, in the judgment of many, a no-brainer option. Following release of the report, several national surveys found a majority of Americans endorsing the CIA’s going for the jugular by any means necessary. It is, again, not a difficult sentiment to understand.

But what’s with the silliness of officials concerned pretending that the interrogations did not involve torture? Once details of what went down were revealed, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” jargon was shown to be nothing but a semantics game. It’s duplicitous of the Bush-era players and their political surrogates to insist otherwise.

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