Ruthless Yet Humane

Hitch weighs in on Churchill and torture. I've been subjected to the usual rain of insults from the usual quarters on this, but my first, emphatic point holds up. The core center for interrogating Nazi spies in Britain at the height of the war was punctilious in banning all forms of torture. As Hitch points out:

it is precisely because the situation was so urgent, so desperate, and so grave that no amateurish or stupid methods could be permitted to taint the source.

That mistreatment clearly did occur in one center in London in order to procure false confessions from Nazi war criminals - obscured fom history until 2005 - does not mitigate this point. Torture will happen in every conflict. The question is whether it is authorized by those in power; and whether its occurrence reveals coordination from the top. We have no evidence that Churchill authorized any such thing. This is the core difference with Cheney and Bush and it remains a vital distinction. And this was, in fact, one of my first reactions on the evening of September 11:

The one silver lining of this is that we may perhaps be shaken out of our self-indulgent preoccupations and be reminded of what really matters: our freedom, our security, our integrity as a democratic society. This means we must be vigilant not to let our civil liberties collapse under the understandable desire for action. To surrender to that temptation is part of what these killers want... The task in front of us to somehow stay civilized while not shrinking from the face of extinguishing - by sheer force if necessary - the forces that would eclipse us.

To be ruthless yet humane: not easy but always vital in warfare.