Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How To Talk About Torture

GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani are in hot water after making remarks indicating that both would support, to some degree, coercive interrogation techniques. In a candidates debate in South Carolina yesterday, Romney indicated that he would support doubling the size of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and continuing to deny suspects access to legal counsel, while Giuliani, said that extreme interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, should be used if there is an attack against the US being planned.

There have been many discussions on this blog about the wisdom of using torture or other coercive interrogation techniques, and I don't want to re-open that discussion now. What concerns me here is the response to these comments by Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA. Goering (and what a terrible last name for someone in his position) responded by saying "The pandering for votes by advocating human rights violations represents the worst by American politicians."

But why is this pandering? Because Goering disagrees with him? Aren't the candidates who disavow torture or other coercive methods just as likely to be pandering for votes (albeit to a different voting bloc)?

This, in a nutshell, is one of the problems I have with domestic politics. There is so little room for serious and principled disagreement. Goering cannot admit that there may be any validity to Giuliani's position, so Giuliani and everyone else who agrees with it can't possibly believe what they say or think that such actions are actually what is best for the country, but rather must be pandering for votes. If Goering wants to disagree with Giuliani, fine. We all know that Amnesty International doesn't support torture, and they most certainly have some good reasons in their quiver. But reducing political discourse to dismissive comments is a subversion of the political process itself.


Matt Bondy said...

For another good post on the general decline in quality political discourse in the US, check out:

He talks about similar tactics by Al Gore in his new book.


Matt Eckel said...

All respect, while the absurd hypothetical scenario that prompted the torture discussion in the first place certainly bears some blame for this foolish exchange, to look at the positions espoused by Romney and Guiliani as anything but pandering strikes me as misguided. The context in which the question was asked was a setup for an applause line from the Republican base. McCain, the only one there who responded with a different view, was met with cool silence. He was clearly not pandering. Also, "pandering" to my mind connotes more than simply saying what people want to hear - all politicians, even good ones, do out of necessity - but rather deliberately playing on people's insecurities and knee-jerk reactions in order to squeeze votes out of debased discourse.