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Please stop torturing us

Am I the only political junkie who is bored to tears by the great torture debate of 2009? I don’t mean to be flip. It’s just that, for all the drama of today’s dueling speeches, there’s not much news going on here. For starters, the U.S. government already had this debate over "enhanced interrogation techniques," ...

Am I the only political junkie who is bored to tears by the great torture debate of 2009?

I don’t mean to be flip.

It’s just that, for all the drama of today’s dueling speeches, there’s not much news going on here. For starters, the U.S. government already had this debate over "enhanced interrogation techniques," long before Barack Obama had even declared himself a presidential candidate. And guess what? Dick Cheney couldn’t win the debate even when he was in power. Many of the policies and memos we’re dissecting and arguing about were eventually repudiated by the Bush administration itself, as my colleague Chris Brose points out. "Cheney’s argument is with Bush as much as it is with Obama," Chris writes, and Cheney long ago lost that argument. 

Nor is there any chance that Obama will suddenly change his mind and adopt Cheney’s suggestions. He’s not going to approve waterboarding or the use of insects to frighten alleged terrorists into coughing up valuable secrets. I doubt he’ll be persuaded that the ticking time bomb scenario means that anything goes. At most, he’ll continue much of the post-2005 interrogations regime, as Jack Goldsmith argues he’s already doing. But folks, he’s not going to go back to the bad old days of the first Bush term — and certainly not because somebody with a 37-percent approval rating (on a good day) is nipping at his heels.

So what are we left with? I guess Peter Baker is right that this debate could have repercussion for the 2010 midterms. And it will undoubtedly shape what happens in Congress over the Gitmo detainees, whether there will be an independent "truth commission," etc. But for God’s sake, the global economy is melting down. Millions of people are sinking into horrendous poverty. Pakistan is blinking red. Climate change is on the march. Don’t we want Obama focusing on that stuff, rather than fighting yesterday’s war?

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