Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 15, 2009

KRAUTHAMMER'S BEST EXAMPLE.... The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer received some well-deserved flak after his pro-torture column a couple of weeks ago. He argued at the time, that "the ticking time bomb" is a reasonable excuse for torture. "An innocent's life is at stake," Krauthammer said. "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."

The general response to this is that the proverbial ticking time bomb is a fantasy scenario, best left to action shows on television. Today, the conservative columnist responds by pointing to a specific example, that actually happened, to help bolster his point.

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 had weeks to come up with a real-world scenario to help prove his case for justifiable torture, and this was the best he could do.

There was no ticking time bomb in this anecdote. There was a soldier who'd been captured by his enemy. Obviously the government wanted to save the man's life and mount a rescue operation, but officials brutally tortured an accomplice and the soldier was nevertheless killed.

It's clearly a tragic outcome to an awful situation, but does the anecdote help justify the U.S. government committing acts of torture? I don't think so.

What Krauthammer has offered is a story in which bad guys kidnapped a good guy. If that's grounds for torture, practically every kidnapping would compel U.S. officials -- not just the CIA and the military, but state and local law enforcement, too -- to torture suspected accomplices with some regularity. The "rare exception" would quickly become routine.

What's more, what does it say about the strength of Krauthammer's case that the single most compelling anecdote he can find to defend torture is a kidnapping in a foreign country 15 years ago in which the hostage was killed?

Steve Benen 9:05 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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Comments

Brutal torture to save ONE person. What's next, everybody to the hot box until the guy that pissed in my shoes fesses up?

Posted by: steve duncan on May 15, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

The Israel judiciary has already answered this question.

Posted by: jayackroyd on May 15, 2009 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

i think, steve, it says charlie krauthammer is one sick slimeball, or to use the technical term... a sociopath.

Posted by: neill on May 15, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate.

Well, as Tom Lehrer pointed out, when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prized, satire lost all meaning.

Posted by: martin on May 15, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

What Krauthammer has offered is a story in which bad guys kidnapped a good guy

Questionable.

Anyhow, it's telling that the best example Krauthammer can come up with involves an apartheid state.

Posted by: Slaney Black on May 15, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

Krauthammer's dreams at night must be torrent, and filled with fear! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 15, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

But I think that this argument over effectiveness is not a winning proposition for torture opponents. This story has enough ingredients to give torture proponents a leg to stand on with regard to effectiveness. I think the single most important reason to oppose torture is that torture is wrong. Plan and simple, It is immoral, uncivilized behavior not worthy of human beings.

Posted by: reader on May 15, 2009 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Was it really a ticking time bomb though? was it known the kidnapped soldier was in imminent danger of death or worse? Or was he going to be used as a hostage for a quid pro quo? Not that any of these things are good things, but if he wasn't set to be executed, even looking past Krauthammer's calculus, is the situation really even a good parallel?

Posted by: nerpzilla on May 15, 2009 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

I've seen the Israeli kidnapping incident cited before. It's telling that this is the closest anyone can seem to get to "illustrating" the ticking time bomb in real life experience.

Posted by: Tony Greco on May 15, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

Do we know more about this incident? For example, did the driver under torture give false info first, thus causing the Isrealis to waste time following false leads. This I think is the central operational flaw to the "ticking time bomb" scenario. Terrorists need only be trained to give one false lead. By the time authorities pull out all the stops to track down the fake confession, the real time bomb will have gone off. Kidnapping scenarios are even more vulnerable. One planted false lead, known to all the kidnappers, to be divulged only under torture. Once the authorities follow that false lead, the kidnappers know their colleague is being tortured.

Posted by: Rahn on May 15, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

The Irgun executed kidnapped British soldiers... the Israeli govt probably figured the Palestinian Freedom Fighters would do the same.

Are those your terrorists or our freedom fighters?

Posted by: buford on May 15, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

All this whining by the Democrats and their supporters about the mean-ol Republicans and their supporters is only accomplishing one thing: guaranteeing the continued policy of torture.

Stop it. If you REALLY are against torture then start advocating the arrest of those who began these policies.

God I hate Democrats. They cry and cry about Bush, but once in power they continue the same policies. It's all a game to them.

Torture is a crime. Crimes are prosecuted and those who committed the crimes and those who authorized the crimes should be jailed. Period.

Democrats are not in the least bit interested in that. They simply want to cry about the mean-ol Republicans.

Wimps.

Posted by: Joesbrain on May 15, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Joesbrain wrote: Stop it. If you REALLY are against torture then start advocating the arrest of those who began these policies.

Um, many of us have been advocating just that sort of action. We want an investigation into the whole mess and then prosecution. Many of us thought in November we were voting for the people who would make that happen.

Asshole.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on May 15, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

I love how Krauthammer's whole argument is "Well, the Israelis did it!!" It's like a parody of the neocon mindset.

Rabin's Nobel Prize was shared with a fellow named Yasser Arafat. Would Krauthammer argue that everything Arafat ever did was retroactively blessed by the Nobel?

Posted by: Tomsca on May 15, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

"An innocent's life is at stake," Krauthammer said. "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."

Try this scenario instead: An innocent's life is at stake. The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. However, you have also captured one other person who is completely innocent. You don't know which of the two you have captured is the bad guy and which is the innocent, and the bad guy refuses to divulge.

So: who do you torture?

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

One thing not mentioned in this is that the Israeli government admitted that they tortured the guy and opened themselves up to scrutiny and prosecution. Bush/Cheney refuse to say what they did, and they will never agree to being judged. They are cowards.

Posted by: Eric on May 15, 2009 at 9:49 AM | PERMALINK

So: who do you torture?

Torture both of them until they shit themselves. The one with the orange colored shit is the one you want for further questioning.

Posted by: neocon mindset on May 15, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Note to self.
In the event of a kidnapping of any government official, commence the immediate torture of Krauthammer, Rush, Cheney, O'Reiley, etc. The techniques are to escalate until we get the intelligence that produces the desired result (given that NOT getting the required info is evidence we simply aren't trying hard enough).

Posted by: Chopin on May 15, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

One thing missing seems to be the effectiveness of the information and the timeliness of the rescue. If the hostage was a bargaining chip, his life was safe; the prisoner was the real prize--his effective interrogation could have rolled up an entire network, instead of resulting in a botched rescue that killed its object and who knows how many others.
As the recent revelations show, torture seems to be more a political crutch than an intelligence tool.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on May 15, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

So: who do you torture?

Another variation.

Knowing one of their colleagues has been captured, why wouldn't the kidnappers simply adjust their plans and move to a different location?

You could torture your captive to death and it would all be futile.

It's ridiculously easy to shoot down Krauthammer's argument.

Plus, knowing their colleague is being tortured, because this stuff gets found out, as we can see, the kidnappers will have far less compunction with regard to their treatment of the victim.

Posted by: henry lewis on May 15, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats are not in the least bit interested in that. They simply want to cry about the mean-ol Republicans.

Wimps.
Posted by: Joesbrain on May 15, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK
********************************************

Love ya Joe. Petty name calling. Mind-reading the motives of an entire, diverse, massive subset of the nation. You must be an enlightened being..., or maybe just deluded. "Say it ain't so Joe!"

Posted by: Joesbrain ain't working on May 15, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

BTW Yitzhak Shamir was Prime Minister during this period, not Rabin.

Posted by: ebg2465 on May 15, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Former Itallian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was kidnapped in 1978 by the terrorist Red Brigades. When asked about torturing a suspect, General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa said "Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro. It would not survive the introduction of torture." Moro was later murdered.

It is amazing at the moral decay that has allowed attitudes towards torture to change so much since then.

Posted by: david1234 on May 15, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

The ability to find an occasional instance where torture is useful is neither here nor there. Ticking-bomb scenarios are sufficiently rare that they cannot be the basis for law or policy. They can only be a conscious violation of the law that the agent must later seek to justify as required by the unique situation before him -- much like a self-defense exception to homicide. There can be no blanket approval granted before hand, just as no homeowner is give a blank dispensation to kill any intruder who enters his property.

Posted by: Jon on May 15, 2009 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

"the ticking time bomb" is a reasonable excuse for torture.

Or say, if you need to establish phony links to justify an illegal war and cover your ass - that's another reasonable excuse.

Posted by: ckelly on May 15, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

God I hate Democrats.

We're not real keen on you either, shitheel.

Posted by: Meanderthal on May 15, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

I can think of a better example of successful torture.

A leader came to power in 1979, but everybody hated him, and a lot of people wanted him gone. He tortured many of the dissidents in his country, which made it difficult to overthrow him. Thanks in part to his use of torture, he was able to remain in power for 24 years. The only reason he is not still in power today is that the most powerful nation in the world made up stories about him building WMDs and palling around with terrorists as an excuse to take over his country.

If Krauthammer wants a better example of the successful use of torture, he should use this one. If you ignore the thousands of lives and billions of dollars lost, it has a happy ending.

Posted by: reino on May 15, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

"An innocent's life is at stake," Krauthammer said. "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."

Another scenario:

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, and you torture him.

It turns out, however, that the bad guy wasn't actually a bad guy, but merely some poor innocent with the same name. In fact, he told you this, but you thought he was lying so you tortured him some more.

Now what should happen to you?

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

"An innocent's life is at stake," Krauthammer said. "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."

Another hypothetical:

An innocent's life is at stake. The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. He refuses to divulge, but says that he'll tell you if you let him go and give him $1 million.

In such a case, the choice is easy, isn't it? After all, if you've established the principle that you'll do absolutely anything to save an innocent's life, then you should be as willing to pay money to save it as you should be to torture, shouldn't you?

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Not only a hostage who died, but who was killed in the rescue. There was no ticking bomb. He died when the military mounted an attack. There is no indication of a deadline.

Posted by: John Downey on May 15, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent logic

Posted by: Doug on May 15, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

PREDICTION: A horrific factual scenario will present itself very soon, and it will be similar to the situation described by Krauthammer. We will have the persons responsible, and they will describe the impending death of their innocent victims. And they will laugh at us while they refuse to provide critical information on how to save them, asking "what are you going to do, torture me?". One by one, the victims will die slow and painful deaths, knowing that our government is taking the high road. And we will do nothing to the terrorists, except urge them strongly to cooperate.

When that happens, it will not be an intellectual argument, and people will forget their self-righteous criticism of Krauthammer's example. Will we lament about "what a tragedy" it all was, and still make ourselves feel better knowing we did not use "torture"? What will we tell the parents and families of the victims?

You people are in a fantasy world, living out your comfortable existence without a clue of the evil that surrounds you. You have the luxury of bantering such topics about on forums, and espousing such liberal positions, because of the freedoms paid for by American blood. Our enemies are not only smelling weakness in us, they are reading about it and listening to it from our own President and his followers. As Rev. Wright said, but in a different context, the chickens will come home to roost. And when they do, I will derive some solace during the sadness and tragedy of the moment, knowing that you may finally see why Obama's characterization of our "false choice" is pitifully wrong. In the end, reality will bring people to their senses, but it will not be pretty.

Posted by: Charleton Heston on May 15, 2009 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin's moral calculus.

I really don't see how this logically follows. This isn't a happy rah-rah story where the victim is safely rescued. They tortured one guy and then raided the place where the hostage was being held, which induced the hostage-holders to kill the hostage.

How is this a win for torture? A normal interrogation probably would have returned the same results, except that then the torture enthusiasts could scream, "But why didn't you torture the guy? This never would have happened if you'd tortured him!"

Posted by: Mnemosyne on May 15, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

PREDICTION: A horrific factual scenario will present itself very soon, and it will be similar to the situation described by Krauthammer...

No such situation will arise within the next twenty years. The question is: why do you think that it will?

Posted by: ajay on May 15, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

@ajay,

It is a prediction. I say it will. You say it won't. Gets us nowhere. If someone in Summer 2001 raised the possibility that the WTC would be brought down by Islamic terrorists, would you have declared that no such situation will arise in 20 years?

Persist in your optimism, and keep your head buried deep in the sand. There's no convincing you people, and you'll have to figure it out for yourself. When it happens, you'll remember my prior post and the concerns expressed made by so many others in response to this administration's poor decisions.

Posted by: Charleton Heston on May 15, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

If someone in Summer 2001 raised the possibility that the WTC would be brought down by Islamic terrorists, would you have declared that no such situation will arise in 20 years?

Hell, if in summer 2000 somone raised the possibility that in only two short years the US government would start torturing prisoners with methods made popular by the Spanish Inquisition, Nazis, the KGB and the Imperial Japanese Army, I wouldn't have believed it.....

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

See, Heston there is a snivelling pants-wetting pussy, and his overwhelming fear justifies torture, in his view.

Posted by: Max power on May 15, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

I would torture the terrorist witches.
I see them at the midnight Dark Masses, and hear them on their cell phones. That no one else does proves the mind-bending powers these creatures have.
Satan provides them foul strength to deny their witch-ness even with needles forced under their fingernails.
An example: Goodwife Brown in 1692 only confessed when her child's testicles were crushed. That shows the lengths we must go to protect the righteous and patriotic.

Posted by: CapMidnight on May 15, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

When it happens, you'll remember my prior post

No. No, we won't. And that's a prediction you can take to the bank.

Hell, I've forgotten your post already!

Oh, BTW, whoever said it was Shamir is wrong, it was Rabin.

Posted by: Glenn on May 15, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

What's more, what does it say about the strength of Krauthammer's case that the single most compelling anecdote he can find to defend torture is a kidnapping in a foreign country 15 years ago in which the hostage was killed?

It's worse than that, much worse. Read this part more carefully:

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.

In other words, the example he is citing not only resulted in a failure to accomplish the objective that supposedly justified the torture, but the reaction of Israel was not to codify the use of "harsh interrogation techniques", but to actually outlaw less harsh techniques.

In order for Krauthammer's example to be valid, it is not necessary that the torture succeed in its objective, but, at minimum, the agency that employed this method has to have implicitly validated the outcome by continuing the practice. Instead the opposite was true. The Israeli courts outlawed it. And, there is precious little clamor in Israel to resurrect it.


Posted by: majun on May 15, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, one of the many many difficulties with Krauthammer's story is, how do we know that the information couldn't have been gotten any other way? You never know that, do you? Better torture, though, just to be safe.

Anyway, reader (9:08) is right. To even engage Krauthammer on this is to concede that the question of effectiveness is a valid one. And the game is lost right there.

Posted by: Glenn on May 15, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm willing to allow torture in the special case that we absolutely know that a nuclear bomb will go off in a US city in less than 60 minutes and we absolutely know that the guy we will torture knows the location and has the password to shut it down and he has signed a document saying he refuses to give us the needed information without torture. I'll agree to that and in return I want all other torture outlawed.

Posted by: JohnK on May 15, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe, just maybe most of the scenarios where torture is used but where it was justified stay secret to protect those who were actually faced with such a difficult decision.

It is not hard to imagine a plea agreement with the person tortured to protect those who did it.

Also, whoever siad we should be willing to pay a ransom misses the point that there will be more people put in danger by following this course. Look at the Somlai Pirates - giving them what they want creates and industry of kidnapping.

Posted by: gary on May 15, 2009 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

I don't get Krauthammer's use of this story. It proves the anti-torturers' case.

Besides, even if the soldier had been saved, instead of killed, the entire matter would have no bearing on existing U.S. law, on the books in 2001 and still on the books now.

But of course law means nothing to Krauth. and his ilk, unless, of course, the law is on their side in some political issue. Then the law is wonderful. Rule of law! Perjury about sex!

Why aren't they ashamed?

Posted by: Ralph on May 15, 2009 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Also, whoever siad we should be willing to pay a ransom misses the point that there will be more people put in danger by following this course. Look at the Somlai Pirates - giving them what they want creates and industry of kidnapping.

But I thought the primary objective was to protect innocent life? That absolutely anything is justified if there's a ticking time bomb and lives are at stake? You mean you'd be willing to let an innocent man or woman die just because you didn't want to part with some money? What kind of monster are you?

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Surely we're being much too hard on Mr. Krauthammer. He's been so wrong, so consistently, for so long, on so many topics of such grave import. Weaseling out of ten years' worth of bad calls and wrongheaded pronouncements has to be a huge undertaking. Give the poor schlub some time to think and some room to spin, for heaven's sake.

Posted by: Mandy Cat on May 15, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Charleton" Heston seems to be suffering from memory loss, and not just because he can't spell his namesake's name. The World Trade Center was bombed by Islamic terrorists in 1993, and only luck prevented that from being a major disaster. Assuming "Charleton" is more than 10 years old, this was kind of hard to miss in the news; not surprisingly, it became a handy symbol for one of the worst thing terrorists could do. In fact, as people who are more than 10 years old may remember, among all the b.s. that the Cheney/Wolfowitz crowd stirred up to agitate for war with Iraq -- even before 9/11/01 -- was the discredited idea that Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 bombing.

So "if someone in Summer 2001 raised the possibility that the WTC would be brought down by Islamic terrorists," the only people who would have denied that possibility were the little pink imaginary liberals that circle the air around "Charleton"'s head. He might as well have said "Ha ha, you silly optimists think that no one can ever shoot the President."

Krauthammer's fairy tale -- not including the totally obvious and undeniable part about how terrorists may commit terrible terrorism in the future, which "Charleton" for some reason thinks someone is denying -- is a whole other kind of thing. It doesn't even make sense on its own terms, as the story he tells to support it makes clear.

Posted by: Hob on May 15, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK
You people are in a fantasy world, living out your comfortable existence without a clue of the evil that surrounds you.

And you Charlie, don't seem to recognize as evil, that which faces you every morning in the mirror.

Posted by: kenga on May 15, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

...
and he has signed a document saying he refuses to give us the needed information without torture
...
Posted by: JohnK on May 15, 2009 at 1:06 PM

He can't sign the document because you have broken all of his fingers!

Posted by: CapMidnight on May 15, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

When it happens, you'll remember my prior post

Well, we won't, 'cause we think your brand of insanity is kind of boring, but the feds may.

Posted by: shortstop on May 15, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

So, just one innocent life isn't sufficient justification to rough up a terrorist to get the info needed to save him. I would bet a mint that if it were your sweet ass on the line you would want the CIA to question that terrorist with a blow torch and pliers! I sure as hell would, and that goes for any one of the people I love in this world as well.

Posted by: brutus on May 15, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Others have alluded to this, but the critical point that Krauthammer ignores or doesn't understand is that, by his own admission, in that case the government used techniques that were clearly illegal under Israeli law, and there appears to have been no attempt by the government to claim otherwise. The issue here isn't really whether torture should be used in a "ticking timebomb" scenario, it's whether the government should authorize and legalize torture before that scenario arises. IOW, should torture become an official policy of the US? If torture remains illegal, an interrogator in a true ticking timebomb situation (if they really exist) will torture a suspect only if he has no other option, because he knows that that's the only way he'll be forgiven afterwards. If you make torture legal, that calculation goes out the window, and torture becomes routine.

Posted by: RP on May 15, 2009 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

I would bet a mint that if it were your sweet ass on the line you would want the CIA to question that terrorist with a blow torch and pliers!

It's always asses and S&M scenarios with you perverts, isn't it?

Of course, not that there's anything wrong with that....

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Charleton" Heston seems to be suffering from memory loss, and not just because he can't spell his namesake's name.

Right. I think it's spelled Charlatan.

Posted by: DrBB on May 15, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

"If that's grounds for torture, practically every kidnapping would compel U.S. officials -- not just the CIA and the military, but state and local law enforcement, too -- to torture suspected accomplices with some regularity. The "rare exception" would quickly become routine.

Exactly! I say, let us torture the dad/uncle/grandfather of the next kid that gets kidnapped or the caretaker of that missing white girl in a Caribbean island until they fess up. I'm sure, if you torture them long enough, they will admit to killing "an American". Why stop there? Next time, you want to know where the drug stash is or even where your stolen car is, torture the first suspect you lay your hands on. Then let us ask, how many Americans are in favor of torture? I'm sure once it is clear that even you are not safe from being tortured, attitudes will change. Until it is some random foreign brown guy who is tortured, it is always going to be ok to torture.

Posted by: Patrix on May 15, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Of course the ticking bomb scenario is quite unlikely. Nobody's arguing that. The issue is that the scenario is POSSIBLE. And imagine a scenario where the bomb in question is a nuke or other WMD.

IMO the President should have the legal authority to authorize enhanced interrogation (up to and including waterboarding) on a case-by-case basis (no blanket authorizations or delegation of authority). In writing.

Posted by: JohnR22 on May 15, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

I already read the original article and my questions to Krauthammer were:

1) What if the Israelis had tortured the wrong guy? Would that be considered as justifiable? Reality isn't as clear as an episode of 24.

2) Would Waxman be alive today if there had been no rescue attempt? Did Krauthammer even consider that aspect?

His ticking bomb argument fails on the merits anyway being that the techniques were already codified as illegal. And fails a second time in that no legal techniques were attempted.

The real world isn't 24 and those that pose silly and unlikely scenarios from TV shows only look foolish by doing so. Krauthammer doubly so. But then he usually does in just about everything that he writes.

Posted by: Rakehell on May 15, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

IMO the President should have the legal authority to authorize enhanced interrogation (up to and including waterboarding) on a case-by-case basis (no blanket authorizations or delegation of authority). In writing.

Interesting, that "up to and including." Suppose it doesn't work. Suppose, too, that "the bomb in question is a nuke or other WMD." If the water torture doesn't work, what else are you prepared to authorize the president to do? Flaying alive? Boiling in hot oil? Impaling on an iron stake? John Yoo's favorite method of crushing the suspect's child's testicles in front of him? Getting too savage for you yet?

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Muddle-Headed Thinking

We live in perilous times made more so by our increasingly nave perception of the world we live in. Today, we are consumed by a discussion of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" which some have described as torture. "Torture" is a loaded word in this context. Take a survey asking if "torture" should be allowed in the interrogation of prisoners and the answer would probably be an overwhelming "NO".

The problem is, torture escapes easy definition. Example: Put someone in a safety harness, attach them to a safety cable and put them on a narrow walkway 1500 ft in the air. Then ask questions about something they want to keep secret. For some, this would simply be high adventure. They would assess the cables and harnesses and determine that there was nothing to fear. They would laugh at attempts to scare them into revealing anything. For others, they would be babbling uncontrollably before they got to the top of the platform. They would terrorized by the situation. "Torture?"

For the second group yes, for the first group, no.

Torture is also a comparative word. Is waterboarding on the same level as hanging someone by their thumbs? Is it on the same level as sleep deprivation? How about bamboo shoots under the fingernails? Beating the bottoms of their feet with a rod?

I would be uncomfortable with all of these. I would make a poor torturer. I don't have the stomach for it. At least not sitting at my desk typing this. However, kidnap my daughter, son, wife etc. and then give me access to someone who may have important information as to their whereabouts, and none of the above methods would seem too extreme. As John McCain said, "you do what you have to do."

This was the situation shortly after 9/11/2001. We were in the dark as to the capability, the plan, or the likelihood of another attack. People charged with the welfare of the nation, having failed to prevent one horrific attack did what they had to do. Not because they enjoyed it or wanted to do it but because of fear of another attack and more American deaths. Denying that this is sometimes reasonable and necessary is to deny the reality of the world we live in. How did we come to this mindset?

If we go back to World War II, "The Good War", as it has been called, as a starting point, though certainly not "THE" starting point, we can see a steady progression of good intentions but unfortunately muddled thinking. WWII was unique in many ways, not the least of which was the near unanimity about who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Of course, this is a generality, but a useful one. The Geneva Convention had provided a frame work for the treatment of prisoners which was followed at some level by the Allies (though it would be nave to assume complete and universal adherence), to a lesser degree by Germany, and almost not at all by Japan. Again, we are speaking in general characterizations. It was based on the notion of civilized nations behaving somewhat like teams in a sporting event. When a prisoner was taken, he was effectively removed from the playing field, so to speak, and therefore to be treated humanely and decently until the end of the conflict. The prisoner had an assumed duty to try to escape if he could do so: it was part of the game. It points out the nave nature of the system. While on the battlefield kill and kill alike, but once a prisoner, you are out of the game and receive a special status. Is it any wonder that some nations disregarded this idea completely? In fact, the bigger wonder is that it was adhered to so well by so many.

Meanwhile, the powers on all sides were engaged in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Millions upon millions died. Toward the end of the war, Churchill made the decision to fire bomb the city of Dresden. Was it necessary to win the war? Doubtful. Truman made the calculation that utterly destroying both Nagasaki and Hiroshima was in the best interest of saving the lives of American military personnel, after bloody pitched battles to secure various islands on the path to the mainland. The cost of an invasion of the Japanese mainland was unimaginable, yet ending the war without the complete surrender of Japan was unacceptable.

The one constant here was that wars were between countries, not just governments and their militaries. Civilians were part of the war. One hears very little of a counter insurgency in Germany after the surrender. Was there one? Not so you'd notice. Why? The country was utterly and totally exhausted and devastated. There was no appetite for a continued struggle. There was no question in anybody's mind as to the extent and totality of the defeat. The same was generally true of Japan as well.

In the wars since, there has been a very "enlightened" approach to military conflict. We have somehow reached the conclusion that wars are between governments and militaries and not civilians. Thus we go to tremendous extremes to avoid the killing of civilians. When civilians are accidentally killed, we cry "foul!", as though killing and dying are not part of the process of war. This is totally nonsensical. This is muddle headed thinking.

One can debate endlessly the reasoning and wisdom of invading Iraq but it is a pointless debate. It has been done, and we must figure a way to end it in the best interest of our country. What are not debatable are the consequences of trying so desperately to shield the Iraqi people from the effects of the war. To name just a few:

1. The Iraqi insurgency quickly realized that operating from among the civilian population was an effective shield from the US military.
2. The Iraqi insurgency quickly realized that mosques and religious sites were safe zones.
3. By shielding the civilian population we also shielded and indeed, purposefully spared the infrastructure result detonating bombs by cell phone. Why should a defeated people enjoy a cell phone network?
4. Most of the Iraqi people, even today, do not consider themselves to have been defeated.

There are more, and all of them have resulted in increased casualties for the US.

This is not a call for the wanton killing of civilians. It is a clarion call to understand war for what it is. If, in the lead up to the current Iraq conflict, the war had been calculated as to what it would take to totally defeat (as in Germany or Japan) the country of Iraq, one has to wonder if we would have fought the war at all. By realizing that wars are between countries and not just governments and militaries, and that winning will require civilian casualties (lots of them) and an utterly devastated infrastructure and lead to decades of future suffering for those left behind, one can then make a clear assessment of the risks and rewards for starting a war.

Recognizing war for what it is forces a realistic assessment of its consequences. Put in this perspective, how many conflicts since WWII would we have waged?

Korea?
Vietnam?
Gulf War?
Iraq War?

There are others.


To bring this full circle, we do ourselves and the country a disservice if we continue to see the world, not as it is but as we wish it to be. As Machiavelli said, "Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good." And again, he said, The answer is of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved."

Disallowing the use of "torture" in all circumstances may make us feel good about our selves and our principles but it will undermine the healthy fear that serves to dampen the enthusiasm of our enemies and it will do nothing to earn their love. They have already determined that we have irreconcilable differences and are willing, no matter the cost, to pursue their objectives.

It's time to get our head out of the sand. It is time to stop the muddle-headed thinking.

Posted by: Clif on May 15, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

It does seem that Clif and a couple of others are missing several practicle points (in addition to the moral one)First, torture does not seem to work. Second, it does provide confessions of just about anything the torturors want so the confessions aren't particularly reliable and in fact in situations where time is of the essence could send the torturors in the wrong direction. Third, we, the US of A did not torture people to get information to protect us. We tortured people to "prove" that Iraq had WMD and connections to al Quida.

Posted by: lawguy on May 15, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

As John McCain said, "you do what you have to do."

You know who else said the same thing? Stalin.

Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

"When it happens, you'll remember my prior post and the concerns expressed made by so many others in response to this administration's poor decisions."

Trust me: if anything like that scenario happens, you'll be the last person we'll be thinking of. Sorry to disappoint you...

Posted by: Will on May 15, 2009 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

In all of the twisted hypotheticals offered in defense of torture, I have one hypothetical question: If a detainee is tortured many times, say 20 or 30 times for argument sake, and it turns out that the detainee gave up all of the pertinent information after the first or second infliction of torture, who is accountable for all of the subsequent inflictions of torture on a detainee who provided the information sought? In essence, wouldn't you be wrongly inflicting torture on a cooperating detainee? The torturers can rarely know the precise moment when a suspect has "cooperated" and when all subsequent torture is unjustified and pointless. If their moral defense of torture is that it can ONLY be implemented to obtain vital information (which I don't accept), wouldn't any acts of torture after the information has been obtained be criminal just as torture inflicted on someone who never had vital information to begin with? Their defense of torture always seems predicated on the implied and ludicrous assumption that the torturers know with absolute certainty that the detainee has the information they want (like a scripted episode of "24") and that it ends when the information is obtained -- but this is hardly, if ever, the case in reality. Most of the known examples appear to be fishing expeditions, not the "ticking time bomb" scenarios they hold out as a defense. By their own low standards, it would seem almost impossible to torture without crossing into the realm of criminality.

It's like a doctor randomly amputating limbs because he suspects (but can't confirm) gangrene is lurking somewhere in a patient's body. One could construct a hypothetical argument that a life could actually be saved using this method but most of us would recognize the absolute absurdity of this argument on the face of it.

Posted by: firefly on May 15, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

A few points Krauthammer missed:

1) Rabin came clean and admitted that his interrogators acted illegally. Bush/Cheney have never done that.

2) Rabin claimed: "If we'd been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held." However, that is the claim of someone who is attempting to justify the illegal acts commmitted under his jurisdiction. Shouldnt we be at least a bit skeptical of this claim? If Israel and Palestine's roles in this scenario had been reversed, would Krauthammer accept Arafat's torture-justifying claim so uncritically?

3) Waxman was killed *because* of the rescue attempt. As soon as the kidnappers were aware of the rescue attempt, the first thing they did was kill Waxman. Those were the instructions.

http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ny-wosold024804627jul02,0,1051004.story

"The order was, 'If there's any movement around the house, your first step is to kill the soldier. ... Don't think about your life. Your first step is to kill the soldier,'" said Imad Falouji, who was one of the Hamas leaders negotiating in secret with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Apparently the guy they tortured didnt happen to mention that part. Thus, I would not think this is an example that a torture-proponent would want to point to. They did not procure the information to save the kidnapped soldier, so clearly torture was not effective here.

Posted by: TG Chicago on May 15, 2009 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK
As John McCain said, "you do what you have to do."
You know who else said the same thing? Stalin.
Posted by: Stefan on May 15, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" - Aleister Crowley

Posted by: TG Chicago on May 15, 2009 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Krauthammer is a little Eichmann. Better to simply ignore him.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on May 15, 2009 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, government torturers don't normally write memoirs talking about it or publish peer-reviewed findings on their results.

Posted by: The Fool on May 16, 2009 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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