Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wicked Witch of the South

Conservative Texas Senator John Cornyn is holding up the appointment of Eric Holder to Attorney General because Holder is on record as saying waterboarding is torture. From this article:
But Cornyn certainly does. "I liked what President Obama said -- we need to be looking forward and not backward," he said this afternoon. "We've got huge problems facing this country ... I want some assurances that we're not going to be engaging in witch hunts."
Leaving aside the silliness of the looking forward argument -- if our criminal justice system was based on this, then no one would ever be prosecuted -- the metaphor of a witch hunt is fallacious. Saying that prosecuting people for torture would be like a witch hunt implies that torture didn't occur -- just as there are no actual witches. If Cornyn belives that waterboarding isn't torture, and thus no one should be prosecuted for it, then fine. Or if he believes that we did torture people and they shouldn't be prosecuted for it because it was wartime or whatever, then fine, say that. But don't use language that changes the argument, suggesting that this notion of torture is simply a metaphysical unreality caused by eating too much bread mold.