May 1, 2009

IT'S NOT THE TIMING...:

Torture? No. Except . . . (Charles Krauthammer, May 1, 2009, Washington Post)

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the "torture memos" noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist "chatter" had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how -- and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.

Under those circumstances, you do what you have to do. And that includes waterboarding. (To call some of the other "enhanced interrogation" techniques -- face slap, sleep interruption, a caterpillar in a small space -- torture is to empty the word of any meaning.)

Did it work? The current evidence is fairly compelling. George Tenet said that the "enhanced interrogation" program alone yielded more information than everything gotten from "the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency put together."

Michael Hayden, CIA director after waterboarding had been discontinued, writes (with former attorney general Michael Mukasey) that "as late as 2006 . . . fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from those interrogations." Even Dennis Blair, Obama's director of national intelligence, concurs that these interrogations yielded "high value information." So much for the lazy, mindless assertion that torture never works.

Could we not, as the president repeatedly asserted in his Wednesday news conference, have obtained the information by less morally poisonous means? Perhaps if we'd spoken softly and sincerely to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, we could equally have obtained "high-value information."

There are two problems with the "good cop" technique. KSM, the mastermind of 9/11 who knew more about more plots than anyone else, did not seem very inclined to respond to polite inquiries about future plans. The man who boasted of personally beheading Daniel Pearl with a butcher knife answered questions about plots with "soon you will know" -- meaning, when you count the bodies in the morgue and find horribly disfigured burn victims in hospitals, you will know then what we are planning now.

The other problem is one of timing. The good cop routine can take weeks or months or years. We didn't have that luxury in the aftermath of 9/11 when waterboarding, for example, was in use. We'd been caught totally blind. We knew there were more plots out there, and we knew almost nothing about them. We needed to find out fast. We found out a lot.

"We have people walking around in this country that are alive today because this process happened," asserts Blair's predecessor, Mike McConnell.


...but the purpose. A means we prefer not to use is morally justified by a good end. To our credit, democracies have long sought to make their rather routine use of torture as humane as possible, like watereboarding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2009 3:13 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« DOES A DEFEAT OF OSCAR COUNT THAT MUCH MORE THAN A LOSS TO FLOYD?: | Main | C'MON A MY HOUSE (SELF-REFERENCE ALERT): »