Monday, February 02, 2009

The Globe and Mail Needs To Apologize For Its Utterly Moronic Stupidity

It's one thing for semi-literate, pseudo-left wheezers to traffic in the lie that Liberal leader Micheal Ignatieff supports torture, but the Globe and Mail? In today's editions, the Globe and Mail repeats the canard in its account of what it calls a "fawning" New York Times essay about Ignatieff that ran on Sunday: "Politically, the Times piece suggests Mr. Ignatieff has taken some stances that are diametrically opposed to Mr. Obama's . It recalls, for example, the Liberal leader's onetime support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and his public defence of torture."

Nevermind that there's nothing in the NYT essay that I can find that refers to torture at all; To even suggest that Ignatieff has ever defended torture, publicly or privately, is a sure sign of slobbering idiocy at work, but also of a specific kind of slobbering idiocy. It's not just a mistake, or a lie, or a libel. It's more interesting than that.

I confess to having long held a morbid fascination with the reasons why some people feel compelled to tell lies about Michael Ignatieff, but for my purposes here, what's especially illuminating about the content and function of the 'Ignatieff supports torture' myth is the way it entered popular circulation.

You have to begin with what can be best understood as a broad rather than specific libel against 'muscular' liberals, to the effect that their persistent articulation of universal principles has somehow helped provide intellectual justifications to which various shadowy Ziocons will handily resort as they go about the business of torturing and maiming people in the course of their shadowy, violent and imperialistic mischief.

If I'm not mistaken, the first Canadian articulation of this libel that specifically ensnared Ignatieff was set off by the Canadian philosophy professor Michael Neumann, an embarrassment to Trent University and a contributor to the American lunatic fringe publication Counterpunch. To be fair, while some people appear to believe the Ignatieff "supports torture" lie simply because some idiot said so or because they are intellectually incapable of grasping even the simplest forms of nuance, this is not a thing you can say about Neumann, who will happily point out the nuanced distinction between good and bad antisemitism: "Some of this hatred is racist, some isn't, but who cares?"

Anyway. In the evolution of the libel against 'muscular liberals' and Ignatieff 's inclusion in it, an important event occurred in February, 2005 when the human-rights professor Conor Gearty wrote an essay in Index on Censorship that singled out Ignatieff as an important figure within a caste of well-meaning liberal intellectuals who had handed famous American warmonger-plunderer and all-round cad Donald Rumsfeld "the intellectual tools" necessary to justify Yankee imperialism, even to the point of torturing people along the way. While Gearty was not so stupid and insulting as to suggest that Ignatieff in any way supported torture, Ignatieff was furious, and resigned from the editorial board of Index on Censorship. An amusing reconstruction of the whole rumpus can be found in Laurie Taylor's excellent essay in the New Humanist.

But how did we get to the point that the 'Ignatieff defends torture' myth not only ended up in public circulation in Canada but even gets reported, as fact, in Canada's venerable Globe and Mail? Perhaps it's at least partly because Ignatieff is a politician now, so some people see no particular shame in lying about him. But something else is at work, and here again, what's especially illuminating is the way that lie gets told.

When something approaching "evidence" is presented, it consists of a single out-of-context citation from either Ignatieff's 2004 book, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, or more usually (in this Age of The Interwebs) a citation of a single sentence from a synthesis of a single chapter in that book that Ignatieff wrote for the New York Times in 2004. Watch how easy it is to turn an argument against torture into what can be handily misrepresented as an argument defending torture, just by reciting a single sentence out of its proper context:

Ignatieff: "Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress."

Nevermind that even out of context, that sentence does not provide anything approaching evidence for the support of torture, and depends on the reader's knowledge that jurists have long recognized the important distinction between 'permissable duress' and torture. Here's that same sentence in its context:

"An outright ban on torture, rather than an attempt to regulate it, seems the only way a democracy can keep true to its ideal of respecting the dignity even of its enemies. For that is what the rule of law commits us to: to show respect even to those who show no respect for us.

"To keep faith with this commitment, we need a presidential order or Congressional legislation that defines exactly what constitutes acceptable degrees of coercive interrogation. Here we are deep into lesser-evil territory. Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress. What crosses the line into the impermissible would be any physical coercion or abuse, any involuntary use of drugs or serums, any withholding of necessary medicines or basic food, water and essential rest.

"Fine idea, you say, but who is to enforce these safeguards?"

And so on.

Meanwhile, in April, 2006, in an expansive essay arguing against the resort to torture even in the fabled "ticking bomb" scanarios, Ignatieff writes: Those of us who oppose torture under any circumstances should admit that ours is an unpopular policy that may make us more vulnerable to terrorism.

To be clearer, Ignatieff wrote: "For torture, when committed by a state, expresses the state's ultimate view that human beings are expendable. This view is antithetical to the spirit of any constitutional society whose raison d'etre is the control of violence and coercion in the name of human dignity and freedom. We should have faith in this constitutional identity. It is all that we have to resist the temptations of nihilism…"

Clear enough for you? Not for the Globe and Mail, obviously.

8 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

Unbelievable.

Good catch. I'll be writing a letter to the Globe today.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Terry,

It's so sad that you've become just another apologist for Empire.

Michael "Empire-lite" Ignatieff is whatever is politically expedient at the time. Perhaps he doesn't technically support torture (anymore?), but he certainly has been one of Canada's foremost boosters of the global hegemony that brought it about.

Does it matter that he "was wrong" about torture, just like he "was wrong" about Iraq? Sure does. Just like it matters that Harper was a Reformer, the chair of the NCC, fervent western separatist and crony-corporatist. It all matters because the fellow didn't have the head on his shoulders to figure out just how unethical and immoral his decisions were to begin with.

All hail Empire-lite, the man who can admit just how much and how often he gets it wrong.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

I guess, according to Ryan's way of thinking, that you Terry also support torture.

And I have to agree. I came to your site to find intelligent articles and discussion (which I found) then read Ryan's comment. I still have a headache.

Is there no shame?

Derek (for the literal minded among us, I'm joking)

9:23 PM  
Blogger IceClass said...

"global hegemony"??
Spare me.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Stan Persky said...

Terry, good piece on Ignatieff. To the point.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Thanks, Stan

t

4:16 PM  
Blogger Kai said...

Terry,

I agree with Stan. To the point. While I do not think much of Ignatieff the politician, I have long admired him as the documentary film maker and philosopher/academician. I always thought he had the ability to clarify the issues surrounding conflicts exceptionally well, and I never felt he ever justified torture.

However, it is the very definition of torture that has now become skewed. Your quote:

"To keep faith with this commitment, we need a presidential order or Congressional legislation that defines exactly what constitutes acceptable degrees of coercive interrogation. Here we are deep into lesser-evil territory. Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress. What crosses the line into the impermissible would be any physical coercion or abuse, any involuntary use of drugs or serums, any withholding of necessary medicines or basic food, water and essential rest.

is now the ammunition. For many on the "New Left", it would seem anything that causes any duress is in, and of itself torture. I have been on a SERE course, and while the methods are calculated to cause confusion, distress, exhaustion, and a certain amount of despair, I never felt I was tortured. And these are many of the methods used in places like Guantanamo.

Well, wouldn't you know it, the "New Left" wants to ban these too. Why? Because they make people feel bad and take away their "dignity". Even though they cause no physical harm, nor any lasting emotional or mental scars, they are equated with torture because they make one feel bad for a while.

Thus it is that Ignatieff can be accused of supporting torture.

4:28 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

Oh, that Michael Neumann... yeah, he would be an embarrassment to the proud community of tapeworms too.

2:42 AM  

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