The Right, Waterboarding, and Superstitious Thinking

Vampire and crossIf the reaction we've seen on the right to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's crotchbomb attempt shows us anything, it's that even failed terrorist attacks work -- at least, among the cowardly. We have to start waterboarding again, some tell us. Others say we should strip search all Muslims at airports. It won't take much to get some idiot to demand we start waterboarding all Muslims at airports, just to be sure. And, when that inevitably fails to keep terrorists at bay, we'll just start waterboarding everyone.

There's a certain amount of superstitious thinking when it comes to the right and the question of torture. For them, it has the talismanic power, like crosses to vampires, and waterboarding in and of itself is an anti-terror tactic -- regardless of the circumstances. In this case, they call for waterboarding Abdulmutallab, because it has the magic power of warding off other terrorists.

They scoured the media for some reason to torture the crotchbomber and finally settled on one sentence from a Washington Post story to make their case; "Abdulmutallab remains in a Detroit area prison and, after initial debriefings by the FBI, has restricted his cooperation since securing a defense attorney, according to federal officials."

Case in point; James Kirchik in the New York Daily News, who wrote a piece titled, "Why shouldn't we waterboard Abdulmutallab? The ticking time bomb scenario is here." This is the big echo-chamber item of the moment in the right wing blogosphere.

I can give you the abridged version here. Abdulmutallab said that there were more bombings on the way, he's "clammed up," got a lawyer, and isn't talking. Therefore, we have to waterboard him, because waterboarding is magic and stops terrorists.

First off, let's deal with the "more bombs on the way" claim. Abdulmutallab is a terrorist. Look at that word; what do you think it means? I think it means "someone who's trying to scare you." So, by all means, let's believe everything he says. Clearly, he's the most trustworthy person in the United States at this moment.

Second, why on earth would you assume he knew anything? Al Qaeda sets him up to die (and that's an assumption at this point), so of course they tell him everything, like Goldfinger revealing the big plot to James Bond, because it's super-important that a low-level pawn who's about to be permanently removed from the board knows the whole big story. Even if waterboarding worked the way pro-torture nutjobs seem to think it does and turns him into a truth machine, we'd be sure to find out Abdulmutallab doesn't know jack.

Third, the single sentence mined out of the WaPo article contradicts what everyone else is reporting.

[Sam Stein, Huffington Post:]

The Obama administration said on Tuesday that it has gained "useful and actionable intelligence" from the would-be Christmas airplane bomber even as conservative critics slam the president for putting Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab through the criminal justice system.


"The subject, as you know, was taken from a plane in Detroit. FBI interrogators spent quite some time with him. I don't want to get into all the specifics. But... I would say he has provided, in those interrogations, useful intelligence," said Gibbs. Pressed on what information was provided, he replied: "I'm not going to get into all of what he said, but, again, I think that the interrogators believe he has provided them with useful intelligence."

So, the question would be, what would be be waterboarding him for, exactly? Are we going to start torturing cooperative suspects too now? Because that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense.

But, then again, I'm forgetting that waterboarding and terrorism is like crosses and vampires. It's all magic, so it doesn't have to make any logical sense -- which explains why Sarah Palin has also taken up this argument. It's not about logic, it's about scaring you.

Which, I'm pretty sure, qualifies as terrorism.


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