Torture and Bad Faith

The first thing to note about Freddie deBoer’s response to my point about his ridiculous generalizations about liberals and torture is that he cites Alan Dershowitz as representing the typical liberal position. (And he accuses other people of bad faith!)  And does so as if eventheliberal Alan Dershowitz’s feeble defense of torture is news to me. To state the obvious, since I am a fairly typical left-liberal it would be impossible to understate the influence Dershowitz has had on my thinking, on this issue or any other.

Once things have started on such a farcical level further rebuttal is probably superfluous. But I do think it’s worth quoting what deBoer actually argued:

It’s not that I think liberals support torture. No, I think liberals want to be forced to support torture. What liberals want is ultimately to do what conservative hawks want to do, but only after experts and leaders assure them that they have no choice. They want extreme events to make the choice for them. That’s why every discussion of torture always descends into some absurd hypothetical where you know that there’s a ticking time bomb and you know that a terrorist in your custody has info and you know that you can get that info and stop that bomb if you torture him. They devise these incredibly complex scenarios because they need them to take away their personal choice. That’s why writers like Spencer Ackerman exist, to present the proper level of squeamishness and showy moral grappling– to say that these scenes “can make a viewer ashamed to be American, in the context of a movie whose ending scene makes viewers very, very proud to be American”– before the torture happens anyway. The key is to go through the moral indigestion but to eventually get to the all-American pride. There’s a whole cottage industry, like that, for fretting liberals who want to get to the tough guy routine in the end.

If Zero Dark Thirty shows torture as the key to killing bin Laden, that’s what it’s for, and I’m sure performing that service will prove very profitable. It will inevitably be folded into a narrative used to perpetuate violence in the Muslim world. That narrative will come wrapped in the flag and shouting about freedom. That’s what it means to be an American today, to talk about defending principles you swiftly abandon in the process of defending them. And that’s the message of American liberals today, like the film critics showing their profound sophistication as they snark at Greenwald: do the bad thing. Just make us feel that we have no choice.

As you can see, deBoer did not make an argument about some specific liberals, which would not only be fair game but something I (like most liberal bloggers) have done multiple times.  He was making an argument about liberals as a class. To cite isolated examples of unrepresentative liberals (or politicians who lead majority coalitions in the United States and are not, in fact, “favorites” of liberals) defending torture (or, in some cases, defending bad things that are not torture) does not even come close to a defense of his claim, which involved citing one person who defended Zero Dark Thirty because he read at as opposing torture. Comments from Eric Holder that discuss the legal status of detainees but say nothing about torture are also not evidence that liberals as a class support support torture — excuse me, “want to be forced” to support torture. And, in fact an overwhelming majority of liberals do not support torture under any circumstances.

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