Friday, April 17, 2009

Instapundit's wrong ideas about torture

My general feelings about the contents of the torture memos released this week are shared by many -- they are revulsion, disgust, horror, shame, etc. There are other, better writers doing the work of articulating how we all feel, and I will leave that to them.

But a footnote in the May 10, 2005 memo (pdf) did trigger a memory for me of an old Instapundit post and I think it is instructive to make this connection. Footnote #51 of that memo says:
The IG Report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated ... and also, in a different manner.
This made me remember a huffy post by Glenn Reynolds from 2007:
[I]t appears that waterboarding, over which Andrew [Sullivan] has exercised himself so much in recent years, and upon which he has staked his many, many, many, many claims to moral supremacy, actually stopped in 2003 [...] and was only used three times. This seems pretty consistent with my view of torture, which is that I’m against it, but that it’s not quite the issue Andrew wants it -- perhaps I should say needs it -- to be.
The reason I remember the post -- I am not a super-frequent Instapundit reader -- is because it was the first time I had heard this idea that waterboarding had only been done three times. I remember I giving it at least some actual thought at the time: Did it matter if waterboarding was had only been used a handful of times? Even if if that did not change the act's moral status, did it change its political importance?

Reynolds did not ultimately convince me that waterboarding was no big deal -- but three times did not seem like a lot of times and I remember feeling like that was something worth at least thinking about.

Well, it wasn't. Footnote #51 shows that the premise was just not true.

Turns out that to even consider Reynolds' argument was to be played for a sucker. I would say that maybe Reynolds himself was played for a sucker but somehow I don't think that's what happened. Someone let me know if Instapundit issues a correction or acknowledges this in any way.

UPDATE [4/19 12:24pm] ... Not only not three times, but actually hundreds of times.

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