Dick Cheney, torture, and the "no true Scotsmen" argument

I admit it, I kinda miss being able to write about Dick Cheney. Given that the vast majority of politics is little more than arguing about sports teams or Twilight Teams in that it’s all pointless blathering, having great villains to howl at was cathartic now and again.

Lucky me, then, that I can get a chance to do it again! This time ol’ Dicky has come out to talk about the torture program, waterboarding, efficacy, legality, and all of that other good stuff. Naturally, this comes under the guise of bitching about Obama being up to the task or not in Libya, because obviously this past week or so hasn’t proven the 44th president to be a helluva lot better than the 43rd at disposing of dangerous leaders cleanly.

In the midst of everything, there’s this:

Cheney resurrected an old GOP talking point in insisting that waterboarding was not torture, despite testimony of people like CIA Director Leon Panetta to the contrary. “It was a good program, it was a legal program, it was not torture,” Cheney maintained.

See, what you’ll keep seeing is that Cheney et al consistently argue that their torture program wasn’t torture because it was either legal or worked. The latter point is pretty flimsy on its face, and the first is a fine example of the “no true Scotsmen” argument (which you’ll also hear in Muslims decrying terrorism and such talk of religious extremists). Simply put, it works like this:

Teacher: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis.

Student: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn’t like haggis!

Teacher: Well, he isn’t a true Scotsman, then.

Put even simpler, it’s a way of defending a statement by redefining the terms. In this case, Cheney can say it’s not torture because torture is illegal, and this was legal. Why was it legal? They twisted and fought to legalize it, or at least give themselves enough legal ass-covering to make that claim. If you replaced “waterboarding” with “burning on hot coals” the statement would hold just as much weight and be no less true or false, but that’s just the problem. It’s how they defend the program.

I used to ask myself why they defend a program that’s both ineffective and illegal (not to mention immoral), and the answer’s actually pretty basic. It just feels good to think that we’re torturing terrorists, and that’s the majority of the neoconservative platform: what just kinda feels right. Regardless of facts.

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One response to “Dick Cheney, torture, and the "no true Scotsmen" argument

  1. Excellent analysis. Redefining the terms to fit the conclusion, rather than fitting the conclusion to the evidence. Queen of Hearts logic.

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