Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cliff May on The Daily Show

Cliff May on The Daily Show

These memos are not torture memos. They are, if anything, anti-torture memos cause here's what they say:

They say look, there is a line that you may not cross. You can inflict discomfort, even some pain, but if you cross this line, it's torture and we're going to tell you what that line is, and you may not cross it under any circumstances.

May's argument goes nowhere that he promises. Instead of focusing on how to avoid torture, he explains how to avoid torturing the wrong people.

For example, it says, you can't do this unless it's an Al Qaida operative -- and it's gotta be a high Al Qaida operative. And you gotta know that he has information about a terrorist plot that's gonna kill people. And you have to have tried everything else so that you don't do this just cause—you know—you think it's a good idea. It's gotta be like you're at the end of your rope and you think you have to&mdash don't— You know this don't you, that only three people were waterboarded? Only three. All of them were Al Qaida senior leaders, all of them involved in terrible terrorist acts and not since 2003 there haven't been any of those.

Lest we allow this argument pass as only a partial argument—trusting that May has another point to make about the actual acts themselves, he makes it clear later in the interview that he is willing to argue in favor of different standards of torture.

...and the line for a criminal defendant... an American citizen has a line drawn here. A prisoner of war has a line drawn here. And a high ranking Al Qaida terrorist who has slaughtered millions, of Am-- thousands of Americans and would like to slaughter millions— I say the line gets drawn a little to the left of that.

What I find most laughable about his argument is the slippery slope appeal he tries to pass off against John Stewart's view.

MAY: Putting 'em in jail. That's torture. So let's open all the jails. let's open wide the cells—
STEWART: That's not— That's silly and nobody's arguing that.
MAY: No. You are. That's— that is the logical progression of where you're going. If putting someone in a jail cell is torture, or you can't say what torture is so if I say it's torture it is, you better open all the jails.

Slippery slope arguments are really pointless unless your talking about architecture or a sled. Especially when both sides claim to argue in favor of prudence and moderation.

But I'm stuck on his first argument about the importance of the identity of the person being interrogated. He is claiming that what we are unwilling to inflict on an American citizen—because it's torture—we should be willing to inflict on people he believes are evil and dangerous. And not even as punishment. But as a means to information. A means that has not been shown to be effective.

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