Defending Torture

Michael J. Totten quotes Rush Limbaugh:

You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don’t know if it’s just me but it looks like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie. I mean, it’s just me.

Says Michael, “How embarrassing is it that Rush Limbaugh is the most popular conservative in the media?” It is rather amazing. Limbaugh’s show is essentially unscripted and he goes out of his way to be provocative. He’s primarily an entertainer rather than a serious analyst. Still, this is a really stupid thing to say.

I caught a couple of minutes of Sean Hannity’s show yesterday and, while he didn’t go nearly that far, he did allow as how these abuses were being overblown, weren’t actually torture, and weren’t that big a deal in the Arab context. He then degenerated into the “why isn’t the media this upset about Saddam’s mass graves and the killing of Americans in Iraq” drivel, at which point I switched stations.

Anyone who’s read much about this scandal should know better. Yes, there have been far worse and certainly more institutionalized torture regimes. Certainly, the abuse of a few prisoners pales in comparison to mass slaughter. But that’s hardly the point. The reason to be outraged by this conduct isn’t so much that the acts themselves were notorious–although they went far beyond simple “hazing” as some have suggested–but rather that they were done under the color of American authority.

Update: Spoons reports Little Green footballs and others are going much further.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    To me, it’s the conflict between relativism and absolutism. The acts, if proved, are disgusting and despicable in any context, in my book. It doesn’t matter what Saddam Hussein’s jailers did, what Fallujah insurgents did, or anything else.

    I view this type of relativism espoused by these so-called “paragons of conservatism” (which they’re not) as the height of intellectual dishonesty.

  2. Paul says:

    James, I did not hear Rush say that but from the transcript it is funny.

    He’s got a point!! (Look at the bondage show during the superbowl!)

    I heard a few minutes of him and he hardly “defending torture” then.

    In this section he was not defending torture, he was making a funny.

    Ya gotta admit, he has a point.

  3. cursedpiratemonkey says:

    thank you for calling out limbaugh and hannity on these undefensible comments. i am a proud liberal but i respect true conservative views. in the end, no matter what our political leanings are, there should be some things we all agree on.

    how anyone, conservative or liberal, can brush off these abuses as ‘what’s the big deal’ or ‘the guy that was there before did much worse’ or change the subject by talking about what the media did or didn’t do simply boggles my mind. these abuses are a disgrace to the u.s., do not in any shape or form help our ultimate mission in iraq or the middle east, and must be dealt with so that those responsible are punished and that these abuses don’t happen again. any other opinion on the situation is simply not valid.

  4. Barbar says:

    Ya gotta admit, he has a point.

    How embarassing.

  5. denise says:

    “Ya gotta admit, he has a point.”

    Only if consent and government authority are immaterial.

    I’m no Britney fan and I don’t care to see her show, but I never heard that she was an active member of the US military, or that anyone in her shows was imprisoned or participated under duress.

  6. Paul says:

    SIGH Denise, did you see the Superbowl halftime show?

    It was a simulated bondage sex show. Not wholly unlike the pictures in Iraq.

    Nobody is condoning torture but if you don’t see the similarities you have a blind spot.

  7. John Anderson says:

    So that’s what all the noise is about. I kept noticing people were complaining aboout those who compared the levels of abuse, but (except at Healing Iraq, of all places) hadn’t noticed it in any blogs except in the comments.

  8. Barbar says:

    Nobody is condoning torture but if you don’t see the similarities you have a blind spot.

    Have you ever had sex, Paul? I bet that was pretty similar too.


  9. Willie says:

    “He’s got a point!! (Look at the bondage show during the superbowl!)”

    Whether he had a point or not is actually besides the point. The only real point which should matter is damage control and making the US a safer place. Having half the Arab world now pointing fingers at the U.S, which has already shown them that it has double standards, will not help that. The entire country has been working towards making itself more secure, removing threats etc.
    Problem is you get people like Limbaugh making stupid points that are completely pointless, serve no purpose other than to provoke half the Arab world.

  10. Karol says:

    I think the photos are disgusting and awful and the perpetrators should be punished but that doesn’t mean I can’t/shouldn’t note that as bad as it is, it’s been much, much worse in prisons in Iraq before.

  11. Sandy says:

    The point is not that American has lost it’s image. The point is that hundreds of human beings have been abused. This will remain with them and their families forever… there is no turning back from this fact for them. The abuse of human beings – of any race or nationality – is far more egregious than the “loss of face” of any political entity – including the US.