It depends on what the meaning of “waterboarding” is (courtesy of Digby):

>DAVID RIVKIN, MILITARY LAW EXPERT: Incidentally, it is not a debate about whether torture is permissible, at least in my mind, it’s what things amount to torture. And with all due respect to my friend Charlie, there are several forms of waterboarding. Waterboarding is a very capricious term, it connotes a bunch of things. There are clearly some forms of waterboarding [that are] torture and off the table. They may well be some waterboarding regimens that while tough and useful in extracting information are not torture. My problem with the critics is that they don’t want to have, contrary to what Senator Edwards said, we are ought to have a debate as a serious society about what stress techniques of interrogation and what to do with it. Let me point out one thing, we actually waterboard our own people. Are we torturing our own people?

That silly and convenient relativism is matched only by an even more ridiculous sophistry:

>FOREMAN: But we’re waterboarding our own people to give them an idea of what they would encounter if they were captured by somebody else.

>RIVKIN: Well, forgive me, as a matter of law and ethics, if the given practice like slavery and prostitution is officially odious, you cannot use it no matter what our goals is, you cannot even use it to volunteers. So, if all forms of waterboarding are torture then we are torturing our own people, and the very same instructor who spoke before Congress the other day about how it’s torture, is guilty of practicing torture for decades. We as a society have to come up with the same baseline using (inaudible) in all spheres of public life instead of somehow singularizing this one thing, which is interrogation of combatants and we need to look at it in a broader way.

Um. So, in order to teach preparedness for torture, the military has used its methods on its own people, but in using these methods, by definition, they are not torture, because you cannot torture someone who is a volunteer. But if it was torture, then the instructor is guilty of torture. So it follows that these people are either guilty of torture, or since no one wants to be guilty of torture, their students learned nothing about torture, since waterboarding isn’t torture.

On a similar theme, Glenn Greenwald discusses Jonah Goldberg’s agony over the definition of torture.

5 thoughts on “Aqua-vocation”

  1. Ah, yes. I think we should call this the “You Can’t Rape the Willing” defense of torture.

  2. Not to mention this almost qulaifies as a tacit admission that the government uses the military as its lab rats for almost anything, like, for instance, antrax vaccines.

  3. Thanks. I’ve been writing on these issues quite a bit recently, and this is the current fashionable conservative talking point, but I think Digby and you both make the key point more elegantly.

  4. All that awful sophistry just to muddy the clear distinction between simulated torture and actual torture.

    Having been raised among attorneys, I have found this sort of reasoning is not uncommon: they just try to confuse an issue by introducing as many red herrings as possible while also problematizing the most basic definitions of the key terms (torture!) and refusing to offer any positive definition, and these senseless artificial complications are then used to conjure the specter of “reasonable doubt”. It makes me think of someone tying a rope into a mangle of knots while blaming others for their inability to straighten it.

    It’s almost like a deeply insincere form of argument from ignorance.

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