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Kathleen Parker is considered a conservative writer?

Let’s just trade her to the liberals.  Based on the column she published yesterday on Town Hall as “Torture by Another Name,” and again today in The Arizona Republic as “By defining torture, we define ourselves” (there are some stylistic differences between the two columns), she thinks like they do.  Like any liberal, she started with her conclusion, then she assembled the “evidence” she wanted to support it.  Her premise is introduced by the following exchange:

Several years ago, I asked a veteran journalist for advice.

“I’m trying to figure out if I have an ethical conflict,” I began.

“If you have to ask, you do,” he said.

Simple as that. In posing a question, we often reveal the answer.

Apply the same construct to torture. If we have to ask, it probably is.

Actually, it isn’t that simple.  In the case of, “How much does that yacht cost?” the answer may well be, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” but not in the case she wants to consider.  I could assert with as much logic that “if you have to ask, it probably isn’t.”

Her argument continues:

Bush administration lawyers tortured the English language trying to justify the unjustifiable.

“Enhanced interrogation” wasn’t really torture, they decided, as long as the pain administered didn’t result in “death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.”

By that definition, waterboarding — the simulated drowning technique favored by Inquisitors ferreting out heretics — wasn’t torture. People might feel like they were going to die, but they weren’t really, and so …

Her ellipsis implies that they were wrong, but were they?  That is the question, and her preconceived notion that they were doesn’t make it so.

The rest of her article continues with similar mush-brained illogic, including appropriating partial quotes from Lindsey Graham and Alan Dershowitz.  In all of them she applies her expressed conclusion that waterboarding is torture, so no further analysis of the question is necessary.  But what happens if we entertain the possibility that waterboarding and the other enhanced techniques may not be torture?

Then, her quotes take on a different hue.  Graham:

Either we’re going to use torture or we’re not. And when you say, we won’t use torture, unless we think we really, really need it (then) we’re not a rule-of-law nation.

Notice that he is speaking about torture in general.  And Graham is definitely (at that time, anyway) one of those people who agree with Parker that waterboarding is torture.  But if he is wrong his comments still stand, they just don’t apply to the current dispute.

Yet, his concern is not with defining torture, it’s with the need to abide by laws, not the situational whims of men.  To me, that requires that torture be defined by more than “If you have to ask, it’s torture.”  It also means that to ask the question is to try to find the line beyond which you may not go, but within which your actions are legal and ethical and even moral.  It also implies that laws can be written which erase even that line, such as a law authorizing the President to take any measure necessary to protect the United States from attack under cerain circumstances.

Or, it implies that Graham would allow thousands to die in exchange for upholding a principle.  It’s OK for him to believe that, but he should at least acknowledge that that is his position.  And so should Parker.

But in the same interview, Graham says

Every military lawyer I’ve ever met believes that this is vital for the safety of our troops …. I can give you dozens of example of cases involving captured Americans where abuse stopped at a certain point because the people doing it were afraid of being prosecuted as a war criminal … During the Somalia conflict, they had one of our helicopter pilots. We dropped leaflets all over Mogadishu telling everybody, all the militia people, that we were watching, and that anybody who abuses this person will be a war criminal and we will come after you …

At this point I have to ask, “How much good did that do?”  Who knows?  And those people weren’t engaging in torture, anyway.  It was murder, plain and simple.

Let’s do it this way, Kathleen.  Let’s define what torture is, then ask if a given technique meets that criteria.  Let’s not just say, “If we have to ask, it probably is–or isn’t.”

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