As I explained long ago, torture is already a human rights abomination forbidden by U.S. principles, values, tradition and culture. That does not mean, and has never meant, that the nation’s official and sincere opposition to torture as an ethical absolute must not be subject to a genuine existential exception. It does mean that an official policy that allows torture degrades the very reason for the nation’s existence.
This vital reason doesn’t even reach the fact that the United States has signed international treaties that state, unequivocally, that it deplores and rejects torture. That one is less complex; as I wrote about the Bush Administration’s doubletalk at the time…
Typically, the Administration is trying to finesse this uncomfortable fact by playing legalistic word games, requesting a “clarification” of what constitutes torture. This is intellectually dishonest, and blatantly so. The methods it wants to define as “something other than torture”…threatened drowning, cold room interrogations with subjects doused with water, beatings and other forms of assault and battery, obviously violate provisions of the Geneva Convention such as those requiring prisoners of war to be treated with “personal dignity” and “humanely,” and that they should not be subjected to “hardships and sufferings.” Meanwhile, torture is defined in Article 1 of the 1984 Convention as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” Simulated drowning, by this definition, is torture, and passing some official “clarification” that declares otherwise won’t change that. Depriving prisoners of sleep and making them stand wet in 50 degree temperatures aren’t going to suddenly become “humane” either, nor will such treatment suddenly cease to cause “hardship” and “suffering.”
The United States exists on the ideal that it, unique among nations past and present, asserts and acts upon its original dedication to the values of human life, liberty and pursuit of happiness above all else. The United States’ identity is that of the Good Citizen, the hero, the trustworthy one. Of course that’s a high aspiration; of course we will fall short of it sometimes, of course such an aspiration appears arrogant and superior to others, and so what?
It is a noble, brave and important cultural foundation of all we are, have been and might be. Those who reject that aspiration, either because, like Barack Obama, they believe that the United States must not declare itself superior to cultures and nations that do not stand for human rights but just the pragmatic duties of government and the interests of their own citizens, or like the rationalizers and supporters of torture, they lack understanding and sincere dedication to the values they claim to be protecting, weaken the nation, its culture, and its mission. Asserting in an official and good faith statement that the United States of America will not resort to evil measures at the whim of misguided leaders does not preclude resorting to torture if the remote hypothetical threat of an equivalent of Dr. Doom, Adolf Hitler Amin Khan or Goldfinger threatening to blow up the world with a super bomb planted some place where we will NEVER FIND IT HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! actually occurs and our last shot at saving the planet is to feed a maniac by millimeters into a deli meat slicer in the desperate hope that he talks. Of course. All ethical absolutes have exceptions; this the Ethics Incompleteness Principle.
The statement, and the belief, in this absolute—the United States of America does not employ torture—is crucial to our integrity and existence as the nation we were designed to be. Any elected official of the United States government who does not understand that is unqualified to serve.
Here are the names of the 21 Senate Republicans who, by their votes against the anti-torture amendment demonstrated that they meet that description. In truth, the designation of “ethics dunce” is too good for them.
- Jeff Sessions of Alabama
- Tom Cotton of Arkansas
- Michael Crapo of Idaho
- James Risch of Idaho
- Daniel Coats of Indiana
- Joni Ernst of Iowa
- Pat Roberts of Kansas
- Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader
- David Vitter of Louisiana
- Thad Cochran of Mississippi
- Roy Blunt of Missouri
- Deb Fischer of Nebraska
- Benjamin Sasse of Nebraska
- Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma
- James Lankford of Oklahoma
- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
- Tim Scott of South Carolina
- John Cornyn of Texas
- Orrin Hatch of Utah
- John Barrasso of Wyoming
15 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: The 21 Republicans Who Voted Against The Torture Ban”
Very educational. Very thoughtful, and inspiring as well. Thank you.
The SMALLEST of corrections: You stated Thad Cochran as a “former” Eagle Scout which, according to scouting tradition, is impossible. Unless they’ve formally revoked his award (or you were attempting to suggest he was no longer worthy of it — which, if so, is a fair point), the BSA holds “once and Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout.”
Ironically, despite being an Eagle Scout himself (I’m one as well), my father never claimed it during his life as he felt he’d done it for the “wrong reasons” (trying to impress his peers) and so felt it was undeserved. I always thought he gave himself far too little credit, but nevertheless appreciated how seriously he took the matter. Symbolic or not, the Scout Oath is a pledge like any other, and giving it while actively disregarding it’s meaning makes it an ethical breach (like any other).
Anyways, I hope this finds you well. Cheers!
Thanks, Neil, that was supposed to be edited out, in fact. I got the list off an Atlantic article, and the author made all sorts of side comments about the Senators that I didn’t see as relevant. I meant to cut that one too, and just did.
The problem with the Feinstein report that lead to this amendment is that it was based on at least one lie (that Bush wasn’t briefed – he has written in his memoirs that he was briefed).
Feinstein’s conclusion-based, so-called “investigation” (really cherry-picking facts from tens of thousand of documents), with no interviews conducted with any of the CIA Directors, Deputy Directors, or even the man who ran the program, Jose Rodriguez, was an unfair waste of $40 million to carry out an unethical political hit job on people who were asked to get information from highly uncooperative terrorists, and did so.
The results will be a CIA that is much less proactive in trying to get the information, because now, they will look over their shoulder. Kinda like what’s happened to Baltimore city cops.
This was where you were wrong.
– Chris Morton
I somehow suspect that those 21 senators would agree with Mr. Morton instead of you over this issue.
Of course they would. He’s wrong, of course. The treaty is secondary: we signed the treaty because this is America. We couldn’t torture ethically whether we signed it or not. You’re confusing ethics with law.
Terrorists are human beings. End of argument.
You are right; we can not torture ethically.
We have allies.
That’s essentially the same as torturing them ourselves.
Maybe you want to include Rubio, who missed the vote but would have made it 22 —
Thought about it. But saying how you would vote is always different from voting. I agree though: his reasoning is just as wrong.
Glad to see the names of several republicans I already don’t like.
Sadly there are some names of people I do like.
I’ve come to see Jack’s point of view on this. Getting down to brass tacks, we have no legitimate claim to the mantle of world leadership if we’re not truly exceptional.
I’m trying to come up with an epithet to replace ‘dunce’ because dunce has connotations of well-meaning harmlessness. Torture, no matter how much denial and hair-splitting definitions you use, is not something you want to use. None of these are actions you’d think acceptable for your child or loved one. Doing them on prisoners… approving of it makes them the enemy and abyss.
Dunces are too innocent to torture, and this 21(or the self-identified 22) have proven their toxicity. No, they have just trumpeted it. ‘Ethics dastard?’ With the benefit of the rhyme.