Krauthammer on Torture: It’s a Moral Evil, With Two Exceptions


The two exceptions are:

  1. The ticking time bomb scenario.
  2. Any other time you need information from someone you are convinced has it.

Here is the great man of principle himself:

Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. An innocent’s life is at stake. The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. He refuses to divulge. In such a case, the choice is easy. Even John McCain, the most admirable and estimable torture opponent, says openly that in such circumstances, “You do what you have to do.” And then take the responsibility.

Some people, however, believe you never torture. Ever. They are akin to conscientious objectors who will never fight in any war under any circumstances, and for whom we correctly show respect by exempting them from war duty. But we would never make one of them Centcom commander. Private principles are fine, but you don’t entrust such a person with the military decisions upon which hinges the safety of the nation. It is similarly imprudent to have a person who would abjure torture in all circumstances making national security decisions upon which depends the protection of 300 million countrymen.

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the “torture memos” noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist “chatter” had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how — and we can’t know that until we have information. Catch-22.

Under those circumstances, you do what you have to do. And that includes waterboarding. …
[...]
Could we not, as the president repeatedly asserted in his Wednesday news conference, have obtained the information by less morally poisonous means? Perhaps if we’d spoken softly and sincerely to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, we could equally have obtained “high-value information.”

Then he goes off on Nancy Pelosi:

Today Pelosi protests “we were not — I repeat — were not told that waterboarding or any other of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.” She imagines that this distinction between past and present, Clintonian in its parsing, is exonerating.

On the contrary. It is self-indicting. If you are told about torture that has already occurred, you might justify silence on the grounds that what’s done is done and you are simply being used in a post-facto exercise to cover the CIA’s rear end. The time to protest torture, if you really are as outraged as you now pretend to be, is when the CIA tells you what it is planning to do “in the future.”

But Pelosi did nothing. No protest. No move to cut off funding. No letter to the president or the CIA chief or anyone else saying “Don’t do it.”

If you wanted to build an ideologue from scratch, you could use Krauthammer as a model. Blind enough for all three blind mice, in thrall to his ideology, impervious to facts, truth, reality.

Just briefly:

The ticking time bomb scenario does not exist in the real world. It’s a particularly wicked thought experiment that is useful only as a rhetorical tactic for torture apologists. Or, as Karen Greenberg put it in October, 2007, “Life does not imitate 24.”

“Perhaps if we’d spoken softly and sincerely to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed…” Yeah, maybe — ask Matthew Alexander about that. One of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s associates told Alexander and his team exactly where al-Zarqawi was — of his own free will, without a speck of torture — and Alexander was able to call in a hit. Two 500-pound bombs later, Zarqawi was dead. Not a bad day’s work, and it didn’t take waterboarding the guy 183 times to get the information. Check out the Vanity Fair article by David Rose for another example of talk trumping torture.

On Pelosi, let’s run part of that Krauthammer quote again (emphasis mine):

If you are told about torture that has already occurred, you might justify silence on the grounds that what’s done is done and you are simply being used in a post-facto exercise to cover the CIA’s rear end. The time to protest torture, if you really are as outraged as you now pretend to be, is when the CIA tells you what it is planning to do “in the future.”

Here is Marcy Wheeler on that post-facto exercise thingie:

The Bush Administration Did Not Give Legally-Required Prior Notification to Congress

We know, because Michael Hayden confirmed it the other day, that the torture program started as a covert operation [see video Marcy provides]. …

By law, covert operations must be supported by a Presidential Finding (or Memorandum of Notification, which is reportedly what was used here) and require prior notification to Congress.

And again here:

The CIA came before the Gang of Four, after they had already waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times in a month, and told the intelligence leaders that they had an opinion that would allow them, in the future, to torture. But they didn’t tell Congress they had already been in the business of torture for at least a month. The Bush Administration and the CIA failed to fulfill their legal obligation to notify Congress before it engaged in this kind of activity–hell, they didn’t even notify them after they had engaged in it, not for some months afterwards.

Do you understand the problem now, Charles? You are so brainwashed you can’t tell the truth from a ham sandwich. You’ve got bats in your belfry. You just plain flat-out don’t know what you’re talking about.

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