A snippet of vid to accompany his new piece in Vanity Fair, surely the most eloquent entry in the expanding genre of waterboarding opponents seeking to show how fearsome the practice is by … willingly subjecting themselves to it. Unlike most other pieces in that genre, the argument in favor is forcefully presented before being rejected:
The team who agreed to give me a hard time in the woods of North Carolina belong to a highly honorable group. This group regards itself as out on the front line in defense of a society that is too spoiled and too ungrateful to appreciate those solid, underpaid volunteers who guard us while we sleep. These heroes stay on the ramparts at all hours and in all weather, and if they make a mistake they may be arraigned in order to scratch some domestic political itch. Faced with appalling enemies who make horror videos of torture and beheadings, they feel that they are the ones who confront denunciation in our press, and possible prosecution. As they have just tried to demonstrate to me, a man who has been waterboarded may well emerge from the experience a bit shaky, but he is in a mood to surrender the relevant information and is unmarked and undamaged and indeed ready for another bout in quite a short time. When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.
In that last sentence lies the difference between Hitchens and most of the left, which probably explains why his verdict goes down so much smoother than theirs. I don’t quite follow him at the very end, though. The quote from Malcolm Nance suggests that by waterboarding Al Qaeda we’ve only ended up teaching them how to resist the practice, but that’s a risk you absorb whenever you introduce a new weapon or tactic. And given the fact that the practice is reportedly no longer used and was never used all that much to begin with, how big of a risk is it? As for Hitch’s own final point, about the U.S. having lent credence via waterboarding to Al Qaeda’s formerly discredited tales of abuse at enemy hands, I’m not sure if his objection is moral or strategic. If it’s the latter, then he’s assuming that the propaganda value of AQ receiving credibility on that point outweighs the deterrent value of knowing that the U.S. is (or was) willing to do this sort of thing to a captured jihadi. I’m skeptical that suicidal fanatics who don’t blink at beheadings are going to feel any extra surge in motivation from knowing that KSM did hard time on the board, but oh well.
On to the clip, destined to become a cult classic among atheist-haters of every stripe. Click the image to watch.