In her Saturday Wall Street Journal column, Peggy Noonan insists that the Senate torture report should not have been published, but reserved for public officials. She apparently regrets that the world will think less of us. In support of this, she recounts a story in which she and pollster Bob Teeter were puzzled by the fact that Americans do not like the Japanese even more than they do not like the Germans. Then in what apparently was a eureka moment they arrived at the conclusion that the Japanese resort to torture in WWII could account for the distinction between the Japanese and the Germans. But wait, the Germans perpetuated the Holocaust. Is there a moral distinction that makes Japanese torture worse than the Holocaust?
It apparently does not occur to Noonan that race might have something to do with the dislike for the Japanese. This is not to deny that the Japanese torture of World War II continues to harm respect for their culture as tensions with Koreans continue to attest. Nonetheless, Noonan is right that the U.S. image will be tarnished throughout the world. She recognizes that the report rightly speaks of torture, not merely harsh methods. Somehow though she is able to think that “torture is not like us. It is not in the American DNA.”
In fact there is no “us.” Many Americans favor torture and they stand in a long tradition of barbarism that would be tedious to recite at length. We might tiptoe past our treatment of Native Americans and African Americans to mention that with respect to the Japanese we were a little careless with (nuclear) fire.
Many Americans, of course, have opposed this barbaric tradition. Noonan herself thinks torture is wrong, but thinks that those involved should not be judged. She quotes former Senator Bob Kerry for the notion that there was no operating manual to guide those in charge of protecting us. Really? Perhaps the United Nations Convention Against Torture might have helped even with the reservations adopted by the United States. See here. Perhaps the Christian leaders involved might have noticed that Jesus Christ was tortured, and the Biblical message is hardly an endorsement.
Nonetheless, Noonan is ultimately right to maintain that the Senate document is partisan. She faults the Democratic staff for not interviewing the responsible Republicans, but they were unwilling to cooperate in any event. She complains that the report fails to make recommendations. How about no more torture as a recommendation. Oddly, she does not point to what seems to be the clearest flaw of the report. It is massively counterintuitive to suppose that all that torture produced no helpful intelligence even recognizing that a lot of deception from the victims was mixed in.
David Ignatius points to the same flaw in the report, but says in Monday’s Ithaca Journal, “That’s why banning torture is a moral choice. Because in doing so, we may indeed lose useful information. That’s the risk we take in doing the right thing.”
Meanwhile, Dick Cheney goes from show to show saying that he would do it again in a minute. Of course he would.