Good piece in the Toronto Star by Caspar Melville about Ignatieff's "I support it but don't want to admit it" attitude towards torture:
Ignatieff mainly repeats arguments from his book The Lesser Evil (2004) and subsequent articles. The putative contention is that torture is morally wrong in all circumstances, but this is so multiply qualified as to tip over into the opposite.That last sentence rflects is what truly got my ire up when reading the Ignatieff article in question. (It was reproduced in The Star to go with the critique.) Ignatieff plays the subtle but morally bankrupt game of defining "legitimate" liberalism based on those that don't share its assumptions and actively oppose its aims. He's no different than, say, Tom Friedman; so afraid of appearing "unrealistic" and out of touch with the Republican consensus that he'll make transparently duplicitous arguments rather than come out as a supporter of Republican tropes or as an opponent.
He returns to one of his favourite tropes, the "ticking bomb" scenario: If a major terrorist atrocity might be prevented by extracting information from someone using torture, would it be wrong to do so? His answer, as before, is "Yes... but."
They are big buts. But torture works (otherwise why would it be so common?). But liberals (like himself) who are against torture in all circumstances may just be exercising a moral scrupulousness that "fellow citizens" (read ordinary folks) would not agree with, and that none of us can in the end afford. But perhaps torturers with their "experience" know best. This is the same argument named by human rights expert Mariano Aguirre, writing for the website openDemocracy in July 2005, as the "torture is wrong... and yet and yet" argument....
...Though he is happy to name and engage with writers who argue for the legitimacy of "coercive interrogations" under certain conditions — people like federal U.S. Judge Richard Posner, Jean Bethke Elshtain and Alan Dershowitz, in whose company Ignatieff is the liberal — he neglects to name any of those on the other side, collapsing them into the anonymous category of "human-rights activist," as if they were of no more account than bit parts in a radio play, performed by "members of the cast."
What the phrase "human-rights activist," used four times, occludes is that these people, the group who do not agree with Ignatieff, include some of his most prominent former colleagues, such as Aguirre, Ronald Steel, professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, and Conor Gearty, Rausing director of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the London School of Economics, each of whom have published stinging critiques of Ignatieff in the past 16 months.
Ignatieff's "and yet and yet" argument is still controversial, still arguably preparing the way for the legitimized use of torture. Despite the apparently firm position against torture, his conclusions are so consciously limp ("we cannot torture... because of who we are. This is the best I can do") as to argue their opposite. They suggest, at best, a lack of conviction and, at worst, an underhand, quasi-patrician duplicity.
I've criticized Warren Kinsella in the past, I'm not happy about his activities in the last election, and I still think that he gave short shrift to Paul Martin and a free pass to Stephen Harper when neither was deserved, but he called it when he said:
All over this country, in church basements and living rooms, NDP organizers are holding prayer meetings, and fervently imploring Allah, G-d, Yahweh and the Buddah to elect Michael Ignatieff leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.I know Canadians, personally, who have said that they'd switch to the NDP rather than support Ignatieff.
As one NDP pal recently remarked to me: "Warren, if you are Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff is your man! Go, Iggy, go!"
Golly, I wonder why?
So, Michael? A bit of advice. I'm not a bigshot (former?) human rights expert like yourself. I'm just a lowly blogger.
(Really lowly, nowadays.)
As a lowly blogger, however, I do know this: Playing these sorts of "I'm a liberal but not" games might work in the U.S., but up in Canada you have opposition on the left, too, and they really, really want you to look like you're in favor of torture and Iraq. You want to be leader of Canada's Liberal party? You want to be welcome on the Washingtonian Republican cocktail circuit? Either's fine.
But you can't pick both.