Friday, September 22, 2006

Mark Shea the Torture Pharisee™ Update

Y'know, I really should know better than to read Mark Shea's site. But this latest post on "torture" is a new low even by his low, low, low standards. In terms of sheer demagoguery, intellectual vulgarity, ahistoricism, lowbrow innocence, intellectual evasiveness, emotionalism, sloppy thought and intellectual bullying -- this might be rock bottom. Might be. Helen Willis once said to George Jefferson: "I would say that's the dumbest thing you've ever said, but I know you'll manage to top yourself tomorrow."

In a post that is an embarrassment of riches for pointing out stupidities and lies -- like, Abu Ghraib has nothing to do with the CIA "enhanced-interrogation" program (real interrogators know better than to take pictures of themselves) making his juxtaposing those pictures just vile emotional manipulation -- I'll simply make two small, but unassailable and factual points.

(1) In describing how he thinks The Vast Neocon Agenda To End Evil, etc., will work to inure the country, Shea says the following, right under a picture of Lynndie England and the naked guy on the dog leash:
Then we need to get people used to euphemisms like "aggressive information gathering techniques."
For someone who often goes cornpone "aw, shucks. I'm just an unfrozen caveman Catholic. That's for professionals to figure out" when asked to define the distinction between torture and interrogation, this is a remarkable thing to say. If "aggressive information gathering techniques" is a euphemism for torture, then under Shea imagines is Church teaching, "aggressive information-gathering techniques" are impermissible. Ever. It is after all ... just a euphemism for "torture" like "terminate a pregnancy" or "choose to control your body," right, with exactly the same moral space. In which case, one wonders, what "interrogation" can meaningfully be. Is it not supposed to be aggressive? Is it not supposed to gather information or not use techniques? As ever, Shea is so eager to get on moral high horse that he doesn't think through what he's saying and will indignantly deny he ever said it. But as long as he maintains that "aggressive information-gathering techniques" is a euphemism for torture, Shea has said there can be no interrogation. QED.

(2) We get this later bit of ahistoric piffle, worthy of a man with plainly not the remotest clue about either historical practice or legal issues:
Yessirree, what worked during our face off with the two greatest totalitarian systems in history no longer works. Treating prisoners humanely and refusing to adopt the methods of the KGB have suddenly been rendered out of date.
What world has Shea been living in? Audie Murphy movies? Let's make this crystal clear. I am not making a moral point ("whatever we did then must have been right") but rather a historical point ("what DID we do then"). So Fundamentalist Proof-Texting of the Catechism (the only thing Shea knows on this subject) is not on point. But as a historical matter, what Shea says about "what worked during" the Cold War and World War II is a load of crap. To speak only of World War II, German POWs were often abused in retaliation for German abuses of Allied prisoners (it was called "reciprocity," a concept Shea moralistically ridiculed when it was brought up to him that this was how law-of-war treaties were enforced when the world was run by grown-ups); "take no prisoner" orders were issued in response to fake surrenders, mostly against the Japanese; summary executions on the battlefield were commonplace -- against spies, saboteurs or combatants-out-of-uniform; the "rubber hose" was a universally accepted interrogation practice even used in domestic law-enforcement, as were a score of things that is definitely "torture" as Gaudium et Spes defines it, i.e., attempts to coerce the will by force; the CIA sponsored coups/assassinations of foreign leaders such as Allende, Mossadeq, Castro (OK, that one failed, but that's not relevant to what US tactics were).

I quite understand Rep. Lynn Westmoreland's point that Shea opens this latest bit of Pharisaism by ridiculing -- I myself would characterize myself not as pro-torture, but as anti-anti-torture. Even more so, I understand Shea's typically complete lack of understanding, dismissing Westmoreland with a sarcastic reference to "the sharp knife in the drawer," in a case of projection that would tax the powers of Freud himself. Grammar lesson: The double negative in English cannot always be perfectly replaced with a positive -- its use introduces a nuance. And it's not mere euphemism -- the term "anti-anti-communism" has a lengthy currency, and it was not invented by people friendly to the left. But then Shea is utterly hopeless in exegesis of people who disagree with him.¹ In fact, to be perfectly honest, before ever knowing Mark Shea, I had few opinions on "torture"; his intellectual sloppiness and vague moral grandstanding (plus the lying self-righteousness of certain others in St. Blogs) was the greatest factor in turning me against what-he-describes-as-Church-teaching. I would have voted against the McCain Amendment last year (and any other conceivable torture policy now) because of my longstanding suspicion of enshrining fine-sounding principles and vague aspirational terms into law, without spelling things out in detail. Once the moral self-congratulation and self-pleasuring is over, judges (including foreign ones in this case) and the administrative state then get the ability to define these terms as they like -- cf. "equal opportunity" and "privacy." The finer-sounding the principle, the more suspicious I am of it.
¹ Any Shea sentence that begins "What you're really saying is ..." or "What that really means is ..." is a cue to stop reading. Nothing that follows is reliable.


WillyShake said...

You left "sanctimony" off your list--a word that unfortunately applies far too often to his unhelpful tone.

I hadn't been to his site in a while and just popped by (he WAS on my blogroll, but now you are!) and was astounded at his unreasonableness and...well, bullying behavior.

Anyway...boy, am I glad I stumbled on your blog--"I'm not alone!", I cried. LOL.

Seriously, as pleased as I am to find like-minded folks, I'm even more encouraged by your thoughtful discussion & argumentation on these matters. As you say, there's way too much demagoguery out there.

Warning, you may find WWII analogies on my blog as well. *wink*

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