Torture and Cowardice


It looks like swine flu may be pushing the torture controversy from the headlines. But before it gets put to the back burner, there was one point I wanted to touch on, which strikes me as one of the oddest aspects of the debate. There’s a ‘tough enough to make the tough calls’ conceit behind almost all the pro-torture advocacy. Put in Dick Cheney terms, the courage to go to the dark side. But this conceit seems wholly belied by the unwillingness of the torture advocates to actually call it ‘torture’, as opposed to the various euphemisms about ‘harsh’ or ‘enhanced’ interrogation methods?

In conversations I’ve had with people who say torture was either necessary or useful, my instinctive response has been to say that I’m not even willing to entertain the conversation unless they’re willing to at least call something like water-boarding torture. (Long before we got into the torture business, it was always my understanding of ‘torture’ that it was precisely actions that created much more suffering than permanent damage. After knee-capping or breaking legs is less torture than just beatings.) It’s sort of the minimum price of admission to any real debate.


Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of