On Opposing Torture

| Tue Jul. 6, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

Jay Nordlinger is outraged:

I’ve discussed North Korea and torture. But bear in mind that the Chinese Communists are no slouch in this department. We wouldn’t want to leave them out, would we? Especially when they’re torturing Americans. Here is an article from the Associated Press: “An American geologist held and tortured by China’s state security agents was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday for gathering data on the Chinese oil industry.”

[A bit of outrage over an Obama official criticizing Arizona's immigration law during talks with the Chinese.]

There is a sickness in our society, ladies and gentlemen — a sickness of what, back in Cold War days, we called “moral equivalence.” Let’s debate that.

I'll leave to another day the burning question of whether assistant secretary of state Michael Posner should have discussed Arizona's law with the Chinese. But did Nordlinger seriously write about Chinese torture and "moral equivalence" without mentioning the fact that it was official U.S. policy to do exactly the same thing during the Bush era? According to the AP report he links to, the Chinese torture consisted of "stubbing lit cigarettes into his arms in the early days of his detention." Glenn Greenwald remarks sarcastically:

A few cigarette stubs into a forearm for a handful of days? That's it? That's "torture"? Not according to the official definition of that term adopted by the U.S. Government, as explained by John Yoo....Placing a lit cigarette on someone's arm is unquestionably painful, but clearly does not rise to the level of pain "accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

Here's some moral equivalence for you: how about if we oppose torture everywhere, no matter who does it? That would be the mark of a healthy society.