Friday, May 15, 2009

Krauthammer & The Continuation Of The "Torture Debate"

The left has demagoged the critical national issue of interrogation techniques. Obama put this issue in the center of debate by releasing carefully redacted memos and throwing the OLC attorneys as a sacrifice to his base. He has opened a Pandoras Box in so doing. That said, this issue is one on which we deserve a legitimate debate with all of the information on this made public. Right now, President Obama is deliberately preventing that by refusing to release documents that would show the public what resulted from the waterboarding of three al Qaeda senior terrorists. It is a travesty on which I've blogged here and here.

I seriously doubt this issue will go away. The partisan left is determined to establish, once and for all, their moral superiority on this issue and ensconce it as U.S. policy going forward. But as Michael Sheurer points out, the moral preening of the left is wholly misplaced - they turn morality on its head - and potentially suicidal. This is an issue with a very long shelf life that will only haunt Obama until he finally acts to allow the release of the documents requested by Dick Cheney.

And so the argument continues today with Charles Krauthammer, who addresses criticism from his last article on this topic.

Krauthammer's last article on this topic dealt with the question of when we would want to consider using enhanced interrogation on an enemy operative:

Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. An innocent's life is at stake. The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. He refuses to divulge. In such a case, the choice is easy. Even John McCain, the most admirable and estimable torture opponent, says openly that in such circumstances, "You do what you have to do." And then take the responsibility.

. . . 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." . . .

Read the entire article. Also in that article, Krauthammer took Nancy Pelosi to task for her disingenuous and morally vacuous claims as to what she knew, when she knew it, and her justifications for failing to raise an objections.

The response to Krauthammer's positions drew a lot of criticism. One of the main criticisms is one I've addressed in two posts, here and here, the rather incredible - and intellectually vacuous - assertion that the ticking time bomb scenario does not exist. Krauthammer responds to that by showing a clear example of such a scenario:

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."

Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin's moral calculus.

Krauthammer directs the rest of his article to those who have risen in defense of Nancy Pelosi, claiming that her massive hypocrisy on this issue is meaningless to the debate on waterboarding and torture.

My column also pointed out the contemptible hypocrisy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is feigning outrage now about techniques that she knew about and did nothing to stop at the time.

My critics say: So what if Pelosi is a hypocrite? Her behavior doesn't change the truth about torture.

But it does. The fact that Pelosi (and her intelligence aide) and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and dozens of other members of Congress knew about the enhanced interrogation and said nothing, and did nothing to cut off the funding, tells us something very important.

Our jurisprudence has the "reasonable man" standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.

On the morality of waterboarding and other "torture," Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.

Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. As Slate's Jacob Weisberg points out, those favoring harsh interrogation at the time included Alan Dershowitz, Mark Bowden and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. In November 2001, Alter suggested we consider "transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies" (i.e., those that torture). And, as Weisberg notes, these were just the liberals.

So what happened? The reason Pelosi raised no objection to waterboarding at the time, the reason the American people (who by 2004 knew what was going on) strongly reelected the man who ordered these interrogations, is not because she and the rest of the American people suffered a years-long moral psychosis from which they have just now awoken. It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions -- our blindness to al-Qaeda's plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by a second 9/11, the likelihood that the interrogation would extract intelligence that President Obama's own director of national intelligence now tells us was indeed "high-value information" -- and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.

And they were right.

You can believe that Pelosi and the American public underwent a radical transformation from moral normality to complicity with war criminality back to normality. Or you can believe that their personalities and moral compasses have remained steady throughout the years, but changes in circumstances (threat, knowledge, imminence) alter the moral calculus attached to any interrogation technique.

You don't need a psychiatrist to tell you which of these theories is utterly fantastical.

Read the entire article. Moral absolutism meets the reality that moral questions must be answered within the context of surrounding conditions. The conditions in 2001 were dire. The conditions now are political - and for the far left, highly partisan. Indeed, many have dreamed of using this issue to destroy Bush and the right. Who is the more moral, and who is masquerading behind a mere facade of morality while pursuing an agenda best described as political opportunism? Easy questions for me at least. What say you?


suek said...

You's interesting. These are separate questions - torture and Pelosi (although it's tempting to merge them!)

There really is no question about torture. Given the circumstances you (and Krauthammer) put forward, you do what you have to do and let the chips fall where they may. At the same time, yes - we should severely limit torture from a legal standpoint. Any time it's used, there should be a review. The reason for this is that there _are_ sadly, people who enjoy torture. We need to be certain that those people are never indulged or in a position to be indulged.

But Pelosi. Now that's different. I think she knew what was being done and she made the right decision. Her problem, of course, is that her supporters - the voters in her district - are not reasonable and she also knows that. Therefore, she has to do what she knows needs to be done and then flatly deny it. And that tells us several things. First, hypocrisy is her stock in trade. Second, her party is either hypocritical or willing to destroy us to uphold an ideal that would result in our destruction. Third, she recognizes that her party is willing to destroy her if she is less than perfect. Fourth, the support of her party is the most important factor in her life - at least at the moment. Fifth, lying comes naturally to her. Sixth, she is unwilling to take responsibility for her actions.

I wouldn't want to be in her shoes. (that sentence should probably be in all caps!)

GW said...

A very insightful comment, Suek. I do not understand, though, why Pelosi has gone where she she has in calling the CIA liars. She could have, quite easilly, simply shut up and just ignored future questions. In addition to all of the above, this suggests a degree of emotionalism and/or stupidity bordering on pathalogical.

Either way, it couldn't happen to a nicer person. She has done incalculable damage to the U.S. over the years. I for one am taking tremendous enjoyment in watching her twist in the wind. Indeed, I am hoping for a gale to arrive shortly.

suek said...

>>I do not understand, though, why Pelosi has gone where she she has in calling the CIA liars>>

I think it's because she thought they were an anonymous cohort that was properly submissive so that she could claim to be the victim, and there would be no kickback. Even so, it was pretty stupid - but no doubt she thought they would recognize the sacrifice of taking a bit of criticism necessary to preserve her position and innocence - and would remain silent and compliant.

She assumed...not smart.

Ya know...thinking about says a lot about the control over the CIA that she thinks the Congress actually has. That in itself is interesting. I think they (the Dems) actually did have the CIA in their back pockets during the Bush what's different here? Male dominance in the culture resenting the controlling female? Personal antipathy? Professional pride?

I do wonder...