The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

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It's been a long time since I felt like saying anything on big political debates. But I think the debate over torture is too fascinating to stay quiet, especially when the debate sustains a lot of the drama in the two U.S. TV shows I love the most -- "Lost" and "24." According to what we might call the Jack Bauer doctrine (which Charles Krauthammer is just copying) when someone won't tell you what you need to prevent a thousand deaths in 3 hours, you get the chords from the hotel lamp and use them to run some serious voltage through your girlfriend's estranged husbands head, or convince someone that you have shot half his family in the back of their little heads, or get a tall man to administer apparently agonizing injections to the head. The Sayid doctrine from Lost is similar. But -- and this is without knowing what the whole point of "Lost" is -- as Sayid saifd inm the latest episode I saw, you a torture a man simply because he apparently knows where the antibiotics are. "I tortured a man because I have tortured many men," Sayid said. Torture is the first solution that occurs to the torturer. And besides, it ends with you in a kind of hell ("Nathan was a bad man. If he wasn't he wouldn't have been taken.") -- and not just the hell that Jack Bauer inhabits where he is unable to relate to any human, but also the hell where you're stuck on a desert island with polar bears and Others. MacLamity says that the U.S. should make torture illegal and punish anyone who does it and make any official associated with it resign. This is more of a compromise than it seems, since under the Jack Bauer doctrine, when you have no choice but to torture you still do it. You hope no one finds out. Drugs are still a choice even when they're illegal. In some ways, the illegality of drugs provdes just the right amount of disincentive to stop the whole planet getting addicted to them. And so it is with torture. Let's torture foreigners without due process when necessary, but do so in the knowledge that there could be institutional hell to pay. Even if Bush passes the McCain amendment and prosecutes it fully, treacherously scapegoating the torturers if word gets out, then he automatically and efficiently, I imagine orders to torture will still be given. But the orders will only be given as the last resort, as opposed to the somewhere-between-the-fifth-and-second-to-last resort, which is what it seems to be now.