I should address Bret Stephens' other point in his attempt to excuse his paper's support for the torture of prisoners in American custody, including the Nazi techniques of Verschaerfte Vernehmung, and his own support for the Khmer Rouge technique of water boarding. It pains me deeply to see Marty Peretz endorsing "absolutely harsh techniques" as well. Bret's point is as follows: the long-standing decision by democratic societies, and especially by the Anglo-American powers, to eschew the torture or abuse of prisoners to extract intelligence has now been rendered moot. It has been rendered moot not by the Nazis or the Communists - but by the Islamists. To risk the possible loss of American lives by maintaining the pre-Bush American horror of torture is irresponsible. My own view is described thus:
Taken seriously, it says that the civilized world would be better off sustaining a nuclear 9/11 than tarnishing its good name, that righteous victimhood is a finer thing than an innocent life saved through morally compromised methods, and that self-preservation is not the most fundamental requirement of democratic life.
In nearly all conflicts, even existential ones, limits should be observed, and it's worth thinking through where exactly the limits lie. But when the moral trade-off comes down to KSM waterboarded in order to extract actionable intelligence, or some mother's child murdered, it's not a tough call. And no amount of inflated, imprecise and tendentious allegations of torture should change that.
Let's leave aside the fact that Stephens goes immediately to the nuclear scenario. Let's also leave aside the never-ever happened hypothetical of the ticking time-bomb. The basic issue is: should torture be indefinitely legalized as American policy to prevent the potential loss of many American lives?
First: I do not believe that torture does save people's lives, because I do not believe it gives us reliable intelligence and because the use of it historically leads to its becoming the primary method of intelligence gathering, and so undermines our extreme need to develop better intelligence gathering, especially human intelligence. And I do not believe that the illegal torture of KSM gave us any actionable intelligence that was not destroyed by the huge amount of false intelligence he also coughed up under torture, and that diverted law enforcement in ways that probably did endanger American lives. And I do not trust those in power who tell me otherwise, because there is no check on them whatsoever, no oversight that they have not cheerfully avoided, and any admission of guilt on their part would lead to war crime prosecution. So Tenet would say that his authorization of "enhanced interrogation" saved lives, wouldn't he? In the protectorate that has now supplanted the republic, we will never reliably know. Our freedoms have already been eviscerated.
But secondly: yes, I do think that in a choice between legalizing torture and the loss of American lives, I would choose the loss of American lives, including my own.
This is not righteous victimhood. It is righteous self-defense. There are some things worse than avoiding all casualties in warfare. One of those things is abandoning the core meaning of what a country and a civilization stand for. If America does not stand against the torture of individuals seized without due process by an unchecked executive power, then American stands for nothing. In fact, if this standard had applied two centuries ago, America would not exist at all. The president takes an oath not to prevent any American life from being lost in wartime, but to protect and defend the Constitution which is the sole guarantor of such liberty. Churchill upheld that rule, even as London was reduced to rubble and hundreds of thousands of mother's children were lost. Washington made it a central hallmark of the meaning of his new republic. To destroy the constitution, the rule of law, and habeas corpus and to legalize torture in the false hope of saving lives is the action of those who do not understand freedom and who do not understand America. It is the action of cowards and slaves.
What part of "Live Free Or Die" do these people not understand?
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