By now anyone reading this blog has likely heard of the so-called torture memos, memoranda written by Justice Department lawyers soon after the 9/11 attacks and released several days ago by the Obama administration. They were commissioned to determine the boundaries of permissible interrogation techniques to be used on captured terrorists. Included among these methods was waterboarding, which, when revealed, was widely decried as torture. For the record, I agree with Ed Morrissey that the argument regarding waterboarding in the relevant memo is strained and forced to fit a desired conclusion: interrogators wanted a proven, last-ditch method available. However, a thoughtful reading of the relevant statute strongly suggests that waterboarding violates US law.
For the record, however, I’m glad they did it; they likely saved my life:
Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques “led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the ‘Second Wave,’ ‘to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into’ a building in Los Angeles.” KSM later acknowledged before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay that the target was the Library Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast. The memo explains that “information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the ‘Second Wave.’ ” In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.
(hat tip: Sister Toldjah)
I live in Los Angeles. So do many people I work with, call “friend,” and care deeply about. While Khalid Sheikh Mohammed says the target was the downtown library tower, hijacked planes could have been crashed anywhere. I can easily imagine a plane commandeered at LAX turning north and flying straight up the San Diego Freeway to Westwood — plenty of tall buildings there, with thousands of infidels to kill for Allah. Or maybe Century City, or the Port of Los Angeles. Those unholy warriors could have struck anywhere, and thousands more would have died.
I’m glad they waterboarded them.
Oh, I can hear it now. Some starry-eyed do-gooder will whine that torture is immoral, that it lowers us to the enemy’s level. Or maybe some sanctimonious prat will sniff and remind us that torture is against international law. To both of them I say “pull your heads out of your backsides and join the real world.”
The immorality argument is just plain stupid. Let me pose this question. If you have reason to believe a catastrophic attack could take place at any time and that someone you’re holding has information that could prevent it, and that you have no other way to get that information before the attack takes place, what would you do: would you keep your conscience lily-white and run the real risk of thousands of dead innocents, or would you subject your suspect to a few minutes of agony to save those lives, knowing that he would not die or suffer permanent harm? That is the choice faced by American interrogators in the weeks and months after 9/11, and the choice they made saved many, many people from horrible deaths.
Probably including me.
If, on the other hand, you chose to protect your conscience, I put it to you that your refusal to torture in this kind of a situation is rank immorality. You would prefer your peace of mind to the lives of everyone else around you? You’re no better than the guy flying the plane.
And the fool hiding behind the letter of the law? Same problem. You would rather people die than see your precious law broken, law that is meant to be a reflection of our morality, not supersede it. If the law says we can’t use “enhanced techniques” to save lives in imminent danger, then the law is an ass. And the law needs to be changed to reflect the real world, not some fantasyland that exists only in movies or novels — or law review articles.
Bear in mind, I’m not saying torture should be used in all cases, nor even many. But, in a lit-fuse scenario when we have a technique of proven effectiveness available — yes, waterboard him, and keep doing it until he talks. It isn’t nice, it isn’t pleasant, it won’t make us liked in the world, but it would be the only moral thing to do.
Like I said, I’m grateful they tortured him. You should be, too.
UPDATE 11/12/10: While I say above that waterboarding seems to cross the line of legality, I’ve been persuaded by the arguments made by Marc Thiessen in his book Courting Disaster, specifically Chapter 5: the “enhanced techniques” used, including waterboarding, are not torture as defined by the law. I highly recommend his book for anyone who wants to be informed in this debate.