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News » Private Eye

Tort Torture

America doesn't want the truth and can't handle the truth.


Among the many dangers facing modern man is looking dumb and stupid when in the company of another modern man. That’s especially so if the other fellow is decidedly smarter than you are. I had lunch today with one such smart person and was pleased that I only spilled iced tea down my shirt once. My lunch companion was David R. Irvine. I know he’s smarter than I because here’s the bio that runs below his anti-torture columns in The Salt Lake Tribune and elsewhere: David R. Irvine, an attorney and former Utah legislator, was commissioned in the Army Reserve as a strategic intelligence officer in 1967 and retired as a brigadier general. He taught prisoner-of-war interrogation and military law for 18 years for the Sixth U.S. Army Intelligence School.

The only thing I ever taught someone else to do was how to fold bar napkins. Irvine is an expert on torture. As such, he knows having a meal with me is exactly that. Besides the tea spill, I misused eight common verbs, brain locked on a simple question about Vietnam War history, answered two questions he didn’t ask, finished my salad before he was even served, checked my iPhone for messages, and rudely got up to shake hands and say hello to Utah developer Rick Howa. Irvine, a Bountiful native born to more manners than my Bingham Canyon roots provide, could not have been impressed. I was, though.

If you think America is on a positive moral path regarding how we treat our adversaries, by all means, don’t read him. It will only infuriate you and cause you to purchase more yellow-ribbon magnets. If you think waterboarding isn’t torture, Irvine isn’t for you either. Despite that, he will tell you all you need to know about torture and interrogation—he taught the subjects for 18 friggin’ years!—you still won’t believe what he says, because his information is spread by that germ of liberal media. If you think Abu Graib or Guantanamo are amusement parks for recalcitrant Muslims who should be grateful for a prayer mat and the three square meals provided them daily, you have yet another reason to discard Irvine’s message. After all, don’t we all know by now that two meals a day are plenty—and prayer mats are for non-Christians?

Irvine believes there should be a criminal prosecution for what happened at Abu Graib, where a disturbing amount of sadistic behavior by Americans occurred. Maybe. Like Jack Nicholson’s character Colonel Nathan Jessup says in A Few Good Men, maybe America doesn’t want the truth and can’t handle the truth. It should, though.

It should not just want the truth, but demand it. Just don’t count on it. We may never know the extent of harm caused our citizenry and military due to our national shucking of ethical behavior and moral respect at Abu Graib. That’s because for every voice that considers gang rape, filthy bondage and connecting electrodes to genitals abusive and barbaric, another voice claims such techniques saved American lives.

Which is the quandary for people like Irvine. They’re moral all the time. No time-outs. You all know what you would do if someone rammed a tire iron into a forbidden cavity of one of your loved ones. You’d call it barbaric. You’d want their head. You’d call it torture if the purpose of the ramming was to get information from that person. But, if you are the one doing the dirty work—or ordering it—it has to be for a good and moral cause, right? Shy of sharing DNA with Dick Cheney, Ted Bundy or the Boston Strangler, that’s the only grounds upon which you could justify your behavior.

That’s why, at the end of World War II, the United States prosecuted as war criminals persons who had waterboarded our troops during the war. For the slippery mind, it was torture then, but it isn’t today. It was torture when a Japanese performed it on an American, but it isn’t torture when an American performs it on an Arab or Muslim. For calculating minds, like those of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, torture is just one more topic with which they can drive high ratings while claiming a high moral ground that really doesn’t exist. For, what they claim after connecting their illogical dots is not that torture is moral, but the people who oppose it are immoral.

That sells like sex in 2009 America. By comparison, moral men like David Irvine are selling abstinence. It’s just not the kind of abstinence many so-called conservatives can endorse.