Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Medium Lobster extends kudos to Bill Frist, who earlier this week shelved a Senate military bill simply to derail a bipartisan effort to ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees, along with the practice of hiding prisoners from the Red Cross as "ghost detainees." As the White House has noted, to prevent the military from torturing its prisoners would be to prevent it from "protect[ing] Americans effectively from terrorist attack." Which is not to say that this is a tacit admission that the Bush administration, from the president on down, has condoned and encouraged "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners. Oh, heavens forfend! America stands against and will not tolerate torture. What Senator Frist and the White House defended this week was not torture, but hypohetical torture, a critical weapon in our increasingly hypothetical war.

It is inconceivable that the United States military would engage in torture, stress positions, waterboarding, electrical shocking, burns, beatings, chaining of prisoners to floors and ceilings, and cold-blooded murder, except by a few hundred or so bad apples no one can do much about. Nevertheless, it is critical that the United States military retain the ability to legally commit and direct others to commit torture, even though the American government would, of course, never resort to such grotesque violations. The notion is not to preserve the ability to torture so that actual prisoners can be actually tortured - heavens, what a thought! - but to preserve the idea of torture itself.

Similarly, the recent decision to defy a federal judge's orders and refuse to release dozens of photographs and videos taken at Abu Ghraib follows the same logic. The Pentagon is not covering up acts of actual torture, because Americans do not torture and because the Pentagon would not cover for torturers. The Pentagon is merely covering up for theoretical torturers, allowing the public to believe that perhaps more torture occurred than has been revealed so far, when in fact this cannot be the case. The Pentagon isn't shielding torturers, but preserving the idea of torturers.

And we should understand by now why ideas are so very necessary to winning this war. It is, after all, a war of ideas, and in a war of ideas America needs as many hypothetical weapons it can get to defeat its theoretical foe. In the ideological battlefield, one cannot allow a few real-world senators to cut off access to a powerful tool like hypothetical genital electrocution, which an imaginary torturer can use to uncover the pretend location of a chimerical bomb - all without ever displaying an actual act of torture on an actual television set. And as long as we agree to keep these ideas as just ideas - without banning them outright or exposing them as real - America is poised to triumph. Only if this war of ideas becomes a war of reality - with the attendent corpses, atrocities, leaked videotapes, torture scandals and war crimes investigations of reality - will America face defeat.
posted by the Medium Lobster at 5:36 PM



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