He writes a column on torture that makes wringing one's hands look decisive. He tells us he has an abhorrence of torture and yet describes the torture of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed as merely a "quite brutal interrogation." See the sleight of hand? The minute you use the English language in defense of torture, you disgust yourself. Language matters, as Orwell understood. It is the first thing to be dispensed with in the defense of the indefensible. And so Richard Cohen found himself unable to write the sentence:
No one can possibly believe that America is now safer because of the new restrictions on torture and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor into war crimes.
Actually, I can. I think the intelligence we now get will be much more reliable; I believe that torture recruited thousands of Jihadists; I believe holding torturers accountable will help restore our alliances and give moral integrity back to the war on terror; I believe that without torture, we may actually be able to bring terrorists to justice; and that restoring America's moral standing will make the war of ideas against Jihadism more winnable and therefore the West less vulnerable than it is now.
Cohen is right that this should not be a partisan matter, as Cheney has so shrewdly made it, turning the Republicans into the party of torture, and prepping to blame Obama for the next terror attack, which is inevitable. But he is wrong that torture is complicated. It isn't. It was never complicated before Bush and Cheney instituted it. It was once an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime, ticking bomb extra-legal necessity. Now it is legitimate according to Charles Krauthammer, the chief intellectual architect of the torture regime, if it saves merely one life.
We also know that even if you believe that torture worked in prying some good information and much bad information out of KSM, the threats were not in any way imminent, they certainly never made it to the WMD threshhold, and were only in the planning stages and KSM believed they would be foiled by new security procedures. So why did we torture him?
One more point that Cohen simply ignores. Torture is illegal. It is a war crime. You cannot get to the point of debating its pros and cons until you have changed the law, removed the US from Geneva and the UN Convention on Torture and placed the US legally on the same ground as the enemy. That's the only legal way to do it - by repealing the laws against it. But the laws were not repealed; they were secretly broken; and those who broke the law, the former president and vice-president chief among them, are above the law in Washington.
That's all; and that's everything, isn't it?