The Heart of the ‘Torture’ Argument is Not About Torture

It took a liberal to remind me of the left’s preferred tactic — re-shaping a lost argument for the sake of public consumption

In the wee hours of this morning, a good friend of mine made a comment on the piece which involved Keith Olbermann’s interview of a popular right-leaning radio talk show host who underwent waterboarding and deemed it torture.

I’ve known Brad for almost 25 years now. In my opinion, he and his wonderful wife Katherine (who also leaves comments here from time to time), are anomalies among those on the American political left — not only are they both absolutely brilliant, but they also possess that quality so lacking among fellow liberals: common sense. Talking with them over lunch or dinner, something made more difficult due to miles between us and, more recently, a three-year-old girl who would rather talk about ponies and pickles than the proliferation of nuclear materials, is always a pleasure. Brad knew me when I was a liberal Democrat, and I believe that my leap to the right provides the cognitive scientist in him with rabid amusement, as he has made a similar–though not hardly as stark–move to the left. A lower-tier Ivy League education will do that to a man. (Inside joke.)

In the case of his comment on waterboarding, Brad reminded me of an overarching theme we’ve been seeing from people on the left, particularly in the mainstream press. Not only did he directly countermand this recent trend, but I’m not so certain that he realized he was doing it.

To sum things up, he took what was a wandering argument–people, including myself, have been guilty of looking at the issue in terms of whether or not waterboarding constitutes “torture”–and brought it back to exactly where the argument should be: whether or not we should be waterboarding terrorists. He may have meant something slightly different, but what he wrote nevertheless brought me back on task.

Of course, his answer to whether or not we should be waterboarding terrorists will likely differ from yours and from mine, but he’s entitled to that opinion. The issue here is how the left, in addressing everything from single controversial issues to an entire election, continues to fight their counterparts on the right by re-shaping the argument in question. Brad’s comment reminded me of that.

For example, as the topic of what to do with the Guantanamo Bay detainees dominated the news cycles last week, if you looked closely you’d have seen that the issue suddenly became about escape. Gone were the other concerns regarding the transfer of detainees into stateside correctional facilities; everybody, including President Obama at his speech in the National Archives, where he symbolically stood between the American people and the U.S. Constitution, wanted to talk about escape: “Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal ‘supermax’ prisons,” the president said.

And everybody was buying into it. Pundits on Fox News Channel were warning that “there’s always a first time for everything.” From other conservative Web sites–not this one–you’d have thought that the topic was a belated review of Clint Eastwood’s Escape From Alcatraz all over again. I, for one, found myself screaming at my television.

The Gitmo controversy has nothing to do with escape. Nothing. The question as to reconciling the president’s reckless executive order–ordering the closure of the facility at Guantanamo Bay without having any sort of plan as to its terrorist inhabitants–is about conferring rights reserved for American citizens onto foreign murderers who want to kill American citizens. It’s about indoctrination, how having bona fide, unnecessarily imported jihadist in American prisons could have adverse effects elsewhere. Yet nobody wanted to talk about the real issues. Even when news broke that law enforcement officials had broken up a terrorist plan in New York, an attack which was to be carried out by Americans who had been indoctrinated and force-fed jihadist ideals while in prison, everyone still wanted to talk about escape.

Another example would be the nomination and likely confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor. This week, we’re getting a crash course lesson in how the mainstream press plans to guide the American public and, more importantly, the Republican Party through the process of confirming a Supreme Court Justice. So far, they’ve framed this as a battle for Hispanic votes, when in reality the Democrats never seemed concerned about losing Hispanic or black votes during their brutal opposition to Miguel Estrada or Justice Clarence Thomas, and they’ve framed it as a litmus test on how those who dare oppose Sotomayor’s confirmation are simply revealing their own anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic bias, when it reality the only racist on record distinguishing between white and Latina judges in terms of competence is Sonia Sotomayor.

This is a hallmark tactic used by the left — if you cannot win a particular argument, change the terms. The Democrats know that the majority of Americans will never side with them on whether or not we should waterboard terrorists, so they make the argument about whether or not waterboarding is “torture.” The Democrats know that the majority of Americans will never want murderous terrorists to corrupt prison populations or be acquitted on evidentiary and procedural anomalies designed to protect American defendants, so they make the argument about whether or not those murderous terrorists could escape from federal “supermax” prisons. The Democrats know that the majority of Americans feel that judges should place objectivity before ethnicity, that “social justice” has no place in an impartial courtroom, and so they make the argument about personal background and identity politics.

It is our job to flood everyday conversations with the right argument, and force those on the opposite side of the proverbial aisle to argue the pertinent issues rather than the peripheral ones. That’s what I like about my left-leaning, longtime friends like Brad — they know their philosophy, they know their values, and they never shrink away from an argument. If they’re right, they’re right and I’ll admit it. If they’re wrong (as usual), more often than not they’ll do the same. Golly, I wish I could say the same thing about their counterparts on Capitol Hill.



  1. Anonymous says:

    Jeff, this a great post, but I find you pointing fingers at the Left for exactly the same thing those on the Right are guilty of. Finding ways to oppose just because they have to be against those on the other side.

    I visit Right leaning blogs because I enjoy a good debate and I want to exchange ideas and see where the other side is coming from. I’ve switched a position on at least one occasion because of it.

    But more often than not, I find those on the Right would rather engage in name calling and off the wall accusations rather than any serious dialog. Many Conservatives always seem so angry. It’s a pleasure when I find the few who aren’t.

  2. Larry Walker Jr says:

    Anonymous – All I hear Jeff saying is that because the far-left could not win the debate with “American’s” about closing Gitmo with no better alternative, they changed the argument to say that no one has ever escaped from a super-max prison.

    What did that have to do with the original debate? Nothing. So rather than admit they are wrong, there are those, right or left, who will simply mask their true intentions under a different argument.

    The unlawful combatants are legally in the right place already, and are better off in Gitmo for their welfare as well as ours.

  3. Linda says:

    Anonymous @ 5:50: We are upset and concerned because your great leader is on the path to destroying this country. However, your perception of anger is incorrect – it’s rationale and having our eyes wide open, two characteristics which those on the Left seem to lack. Putting that aside: Yes, waterboarding was necessary if it obtained information that kept this country safe (and evidently it did – we’ll just never be privy to the facts in that regard because those in high places feel the need to blindfold and stifle the American public). What happened to the “right-to-know” that the Left always professed where they thought that the public even needed to know about our national secrets; i.e., those revealed by the New York Times during the Bush administration? Why has that right-to-know suddenly disappeared when a Democrat gets elected? When we request the same consideration, we on the Right are called extremists and angry. Now who’s name calling?

    Knowing Ms. Sotomayor’s background and her stand on the actual position of a Supreme Court Justice and the rationale that position entails is important to you, me, this country, and our future if we are to survive. However, it also appears that we will never be privy to that information either. We’ll just be railroaded, as we the public have been railroaded since at least this time last year.

    We have the right-to-know about Ms. Sotomayor’s La Raza membership (no Supreme Court Justice should be a member of any radical ethnic organization, as they are not to rule on emotion, but are only there to interpret the law as it pertains to the Constitution); we have the right-to-know about your President’s true background, including his associations and upbringing; we have the right-to-know why this current administration feels it necessary to convert us into fascism (yes fascism – read the definition) instead of preserving the republic for which our forefathers fought. You see, it’s not anger – we are not calling people names as we heard from others in the last eight years – we are merely exercising our right-to-know . . . something which the Left previously had no problem demanding.

    We will continue to exercise that right until we get answers . . . and I “hope” (to use your own word – although I believe that hope is paralyzing) when those answers and truth come it’s not too late.

  4. Gail B says:

    Anonymous at 5:50 p.m.:

    You said, “Jeff, this a great post, but I find you pointing fingers at the Left for exactly the same thing those on the Right are guilty of.”

    Excuse me, but I find that a bit offensive in that it was the LEFTIST MSM (CNN) that called the American Patriots protesting at the tea parties on April 15 “TEABAGGERS.” The Right didn’t do any namecalling.

    All the Right wants is for our Constitution to be upheld.

    Put that in your Left nostril and smoke it!

  5. Gail B says:

    Larry Walker, Jr., what you said was absolutely BEAUTIFUL!

    Right on spot! Thank you!

  6. IZ says:

    Come on you guys, anonymous says she sees a lot of anger on the right. She is right. Have you read the comments on many of the right wing blogs? However, the majority of bloggers themselves (those who write blogs and not just commenters) are fair minded, IMO. I read a lot of blogs, both on the right and the left, and here is where I need to disagree with anon (at least to her/his implication): The Bloggers and commenters on the left are far more vicious, angry, and vile than any all but the small minority of there counterparts on the right. And all this while they their party is enjoying unprecendented power (at least for dems in the last couple decades) and the media is giving all of their politicians and activists free positive publicity (read fawning). So I do think anons criticism of right wing anger is missguided, since the left is even more so, and with much less (in reality) to be angry about.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Seriously Anon? Haven’t checked out Daily Kos and Huffington have you? How about Rachel Maddow on MSNBC? Iz is right. We are angry, but it isn’t taken to the extreme vile behavior that comes from the left. You can see the difference btwn. left activists protesting in public and the Tea Party activists protesting in public. There is definitely a difference in the way frustration and/or anger is expressed. One has more class than the other. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry about an issue…especially issues that are scaring the heck out of sensible people…rather, it is in the way it’s handled. And, let’s also add that comedienne…whatshername again? Wanda Sykes?…that said she wanted Rush’s kidneys to fail? And, our guy laughed, too. Nice. Never do you hear that type of talk come from the right. How about Garafolo accusing Tea Party activists as “racists” because they disagree with socialist policies. Or the Black Panthers intimidating voters with billyclubs and then getting away with it? Seriously…there’s no comparison. I’ve read some…and I say some because it’s so intolerable…left blogs that literally frighten me to think these ppl are fellow Americans. If only the old time dems were still around, then we could actually deal with a true debate. And, as far as your accusations that the right name-calls…from what I have seen, it’s mostly in response to liberal vile trolls who come on those sites and start with their vicious attacks. It’s fewer and further between with the right side of the debate. I’ve been coming to this site for about a year now, and I will fairly say that I have seen very little name-calling or anything out-of-line. Most ppl on here are very civil.

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