Jul 23, 2008

Sticks and stones

Comparing press treatment of David Addington — the white house lawyer who drafted the memos authorising the CIA's use of torture — and Mr Khadr, the 16-year-old Canadian whose videotaped interrogation recently went public, the Wall Street Journal finds little daylight.

While the operative for al Qaeda is humanized, the counsel for the vice president is demonized.... Reasonable people can disagree with David, and many did. But the aim here is not reasonable debate. The aim is to close debate by shouting accusations so often that they become accepted..... And thus the Washington Post column on David's congressional testimony, where he is described "hunched" and said to have "barked," "growled" and "snarled" -- language you would use to describe an animal."

It's a tribute to our society that even amid a terrible war we are capable of seeing the humanity of an enemy raised and trained to hate and kill us. Some of us are still waiting for that same presumption of humanity to be extended to the good men and women doing their imperfect best to keep us safe.

The writer has two things confused: the dehumanising effect of verbs such as "snarled" and "growled", which seek to compare Mr Addington to a dog; and the actual treatment he authorised, which involves leashing and chaining and beating prisoners with electrical cable until they begged to be allowed to commit suicide — in other words, actually treating people like dogs. The difference between a verb and three-inch thick electrical cable is worthy of note, I think, particularly when applied to the soles of one's feet.

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