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What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Eye On The Right: Cal Thomas

I'm not much of a fan of Fox News. I think I've made that point pretty clear here in the past. So, I don't watch it. I do watch on Saturday, when Fox News Watch airs. It's an actual fair and balanced look at the media. I think it's the only show on Fox News that is.

Cal Thomas is one of the panelists. He's a conservative columnist with Tribune Media Services. That's about all I knew of Thomas outside of Fox News Watch. There are a handful of conservative columnists I read, and Thomas isn't one of them.

A recent column caught my eye, with Thomas criticizing the U.S. Army for modifying its guidebook on interrogations, and essentially forbids torture of the kind practiced at Abu Ghraib, such as the use of sleep deprivation or humiliation. Of course, the appropriate treatment of POWs is outlined in the Geneva Convention, and had the guards at Abu Ghraib been familiar with that document, they would have known what is and what is not torture as it relates to the Geneva Convention.

So, Cal Thomas is upset that the Army is officially prohibiting torture. He complains, "If the Army nabs a person it suspects of knowing the location of a nuclear bomb that is about to wipe out an American city, would the interrogators and their military and civilian superiors refuse to use torture to squeeze the information out of the captive?"

As has been pointed out numerous times, the idea that torture produces accurate intelligence has long been dismissed by the professional intelligence community. They know that someone being tortured might say anything to have the torture stopped.

So, what proof does Thomas offer that torture works? Why, the television show 24. Really. I'm not kidding, he does. I've never watched 24 but apparently Cal Thomas has. Here's the proof Thomas offers in his column about how great torture is:

"On Fox's 24 action-drama show Monday nights, art doesn't imitate life. Increasingly, it resembles it. Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) leader Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) is ordered not to torture a man he believes has knowledge of the whereabouts of terrorist Habib Marwan. Marwan has captured the nuclear code book known as the 'football' from a shot down Air Force One carrying the president of the United States.

An ACLU-type lawyer shows up at CTU headquarters (he's been tipped off by a Marwan minion) with a court order forbidding torture of the suspect. Jack Bauer concocts a plan and gets the man released. When the lawyer leaves, Bauer grabs the suspect outside CTU and tortures him until he discloses the location of Marwan."

See? Torture works! Jack Bauer used it and saved the country from nuclear annihilation. "Agent Jack Bauer rightly chose the greater good - saving millions of lives - over the niceties imposed by those whose manual seems inspired by The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette."

Actually, and I'll admit this might be something of a stretch, but the Army's interrogation manual seems more inspired by the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War than the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette. Also, I've not read the Vanderbilt book, so I don't know what it has to say about the treatment of POWS. I'll add it to my reading list.

Thomas ends his column with this:

"Are we not paying attention to the beheading videos? The barbarians are at the gate. In fact, they have broken down the gate. Why are we letting them in and treating them only a little more harshly than unwelcome holiday relatives?"

I take it Thomas has not read the Church Report or the Taguba Report on Abu Ghraib. If he had, he'd know we went a little beyond treating those prisoners "more harshly than unwelcome holiday relatives," unless Cal Thomas is the type of guy who would sodomize an unwelcome relative with a glow stick, as one guard did to a prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

I suppose it's no coincidence that Joel Sunrow, one of the creators of 24, is a conservative. What better way is there to play up right-wing torture fantasies than to put them on prime time television?

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