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It All Comes Down To The Golden Rule

March 10, 2010

Last night, former Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen defended waterboarding in an interview with Jon Stewart, now available in three parts on the Daily Show website. Having spent the past week blogging on the OPR Report, I was familiar with many of Thiessen’s arguments. Theissen’s candor nevertheless caught me somewhat off-guard.

I mean, I knew that the purpose of the Bybee Memo was to grant the interrogator “the very subjectivity it denies detainees” (as I put it in a post on Bybee’s interpretation of the phrase “specific intent”). But here was a guy stating plainly to Jon Stewart that it’s okay for us to waterboard the Taliban, but not for the Taliban to waterboard us (from part II, beginning at the 5:13 mark):

Stewart: I think the disagreement is: some people regard waterboarding as torture.

Thiessen:
Some do.

Stewart: Even though you suggest that it’s not.

Thiessen: Well, do we torture our own troops?

Stewart: No, we do not.

Thiessen: Tens of thousands of American service members go through waterboarding.

Stewart: There is an enormous difference between the two.

Thiessen: It’s not so enormous.

[Stewart debate the length and severity of waterboarding]

Stewart: Let’s step back for a second. If an American is captured by the Taliban and they waterboard him, you’re saying that’s okay?

Thiessen: No, I’m absolutely not saying that’s okay. No, come on — be serious here for a second. Our people are protected by the Geneva Conventions. We are lawful combatants. The terrorists are not lawful combatants. They violate the Geneva Conventions.

Stewart: Then why should we draw the line anywhere? Then, what difference does it make? Why not pulls their balls off?

Thiessen: Because we have laws. We have laws as to how far we can go and no further. We designed a program that stayed within our laws.

For Thiessen, detainees are not entitled to the humane treatment we would expect for ourselves. So long as the United States does not violate its laws — it is, of course, okay to aggressively interpret those laws — its conduct is justified.

Contrast that with Stewart’s take on waterboarding (from Part III, beginning at the 3:15 mark):

Stewart: Here’s what I would say. I would be comfortable with us doing to any detainee what I would be comfortable with other countries doing to our guys. Maybe that does put us in a slightly larger jeopardy in the interrogation field, but I think it puts us on more solid ground in other areas.

The debate over waterboarding, you see, all comes down to a very simple disagreement over the golden rule. And these days, it seems, the best Christians are secularists.

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