This morning’s NYT has an insightful op-ed on how the interrogation techniques now used by the U.S. were actually first developed by the Communist interrogators of the Soviet-controlled world. They were designed not to get actionable intelligence but to destroy a person’s soul and enforce ideological conformity. In this “Animal Farm” moment, where the United States has literally adopted the immorality of its erstwhile enemy, it’s hard to improve on this email:

The audacity of what the WSJ and the White House are trying to do is staggering. What they are attempting to do is one of the most profound moral outrages that Orwell (and myself) ascribed to the left, which is simply redefining a word and insisting on that redefinition in the political discourse, until that word has lost its original primary function. The academic establishment has gone a long way in changing the word “tolerance” to have overtones of being sympathetic to a thing, whereas it used to have a meaning similar to this: “In the use of torture, many people have a threshold of pain beyond which they cannot tolerate it and will give in to the demands of their captors.” I will not be a part of this debate anymore, because anybody with an 8th grade education knows exactly what both “torture” and “tolerate” mean here. The president and his allies are (characteristically) pulling one out of the Orwellian left playbook to redefine the word into irrelevance. In other words, if “torture” means “organ failure” or “death” as the White House has argued (and let’s open our eyes and notice that organ failure is a corrolary to death without immediate, radical medical treatment, e.g. a liver transplant or permanent dialysis), then the above statement becomes nearly nonsense, because dead people are by definition unable to give in to the demands of their captors. A good way to settle a dispute among rational parties is to find an impartial, mutually respected source to arbitrate. I often find that people go around spilling a lot of words in a discussion without resolution in cases where consulting the definitions of words provides so much clarity that people are rendered without argument. From the “Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,” torture:

A noun 1. Originally, (a disorder characterized by) contortion, distortion, or twisting. Later, (the infliction of) severe physical or mental suffering; anguish, agony, torment. b transf. A cause of severe pain or anguish. 2. The infliction of severe bodily pain as a punishment or as a means of interrogation or persuasion; a form or instance of this. b transf. An instrument or means of torture. B verb trans. 1. Subject to torture as a punishment or as a means of interrogation or persuasion. 2. Inflict severe mental or physical suffering on; cause anguish in; torment. Also, puzzle or perplex greatly. 3. figuratively, to force violently out of the original state or form; twist, distort; pervert. Also followed by /into/. 4. extract by torture.

Torture is defined purely in terms of inflicted suffering. These people who want to argue the point in the face of the definition are not engaging in a rational discussion, and should be treated as such. I will point out that the one sense of torture here that is not referring to concrete torture describes their tactics. They are, in fact, attempting verb form number 3 of torture on the word torture. They are trying to twist, distort and pervert the word out of its agreed definition.

Yes, they are. And they are doing so because what they have done and permitted to be done is so outrageous to civilized norms that they have no option but to destroy the very language that we use. We do not have to be a party to this. We have to expose it for what it is.


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