I am extremely relieved that Hugh Hewitt has begun to grapple with the reality of torture in the American military and the authorization of such torture by the president of the United States, vice-president and defense secretary. It's been in plain sight for several years but it is nonetheless deeply encouraging when a major figure in the Republican establishment faces the facts squarely. Money quote from a serious interview of Colonel Stuart Herrington, a man with long experience of the U.S. military's evolving policies on the question:
HH: From the time you began in this human and counterintelligence business to today, how much of the techniques changed as to effective interrogation?
SH: Well, we thought we had it pretty well on track, and that there was a consensus in the discipline that interrogation is a very professionally demanding discipline that requires an understanding of human nature, and essentially how to outsmart and outfox a source who has information that he really doesn’t want to tell you, but it's your job to get it. And I'd thought for some time that we had a good consensus on that until the Iraq thing came along, and something happened, and people took a wrong turn at the intersection, if you will.
HH: And how did they do that?
SH: Well, there became a notion of what, and I think part of it was because of official policy emanating from the Department of Defense, and then part of it was just that plus osmosis plus the influence of television and the overall pop culture, that interrogators are inquisitors, and that the best way to get information out of people is to "take off the gloves." And that's the wrong turn that we took, and it's a very serious wrong turn, because for a whole variety of reasons, torture and brutality in interrogations is counterproductive.
HH: Does the United States military torture people?
SH: Well, I think if you ask the question has it happened, or have things taken place that are wrong, and that went well over the line, I think the answer is yes, regrettably. Was it a controlled policy, i.e. that what they were doing was something that was sanctioned from on high, my own personal opinion is that some of it was, especially the things that the task force was doing in Iraq with respect to the top fifty of Saddam's henchmen that they caught, and al Qaeda types. And in some cases, it was just stupid young people with bad leadership and bad skills essentially behaving in an extremely counterproductive and undisciplined fashion, and that's more what applies to Abu Ghraib.
Hewitt raises the "24" ticking time-bomb scenario that has been used as the lynchpin for the torture that has become routine in the war on terror. Here's the answer from a man who knows what he's talking about:
The difficulty with that is that that question poses a hypothetical which in my experience, I never ran into a hypothetical like that. If you pose the rectitude, or lack thereof, of torture based upon that hypothetical, you're not really dealing in the real world. That's my answer to that.
"Not really dealing in the real world." Can we rest the case there, please?
Seriously, I am grateful for Hewitt's (eventually) dealing so forthrightly with this issue and commend him for getting answers many on the right do not want to hear. I sincerely hope that other conservatives - especially those purporting to support the rule of law, love the military, and guided by a Christian conscience - will begin to realize that this is a real and dark stain on the United States. It is not "hysterical" to expose, and rectify this cancer. And it cannot be dealt with by looking the other way.