Facts Be Damned

Charles Krauthammer got hammered (sorry, couldn’t resist!) by his readers for that column he wrote a few weeks ago on the two scenarios in which torture was justifiable. (If you don’t remember, the two scenarios were (1) the ticking time bomb scenario; and (2) any other time you think a detainee has important information and won’t give it up). His response is, if anything, worse than the original.

To his critics’ argument that the ticking time bomb notion is a fantasy fueled by Jack Bauer aficionados, Krauthammer responds with one single example of a botched Israeli kidnapping rescue attempt that took place in 1994:

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel’s existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: “If we’d been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held.”

Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin’s moral calculus.

That moral calculus is important. Even John McCain says that in ticking time bomb scenarios you “do what you have to do.” The no-torture principle is not inviolable. One therefore has to think about what kind of transgressive interrogation might be permissible in the less pristine circumstance of the high-value terrorist who knows about less imminent attacks. …

Steve Benen is incredulous:

Krauthammer had weeks to come up with a real-world scenario to help prove his case for justifiable torture, and this was the best he could do.

There was no ticking time bomb in this anecdote. There was a soldier who’d been captured by his enemy. Obviously the government wanted to save the man’s life and mount a rescue operation, but officials brutally tortured an accomplice and the soldier was nevertheless killed.

It’s clearly a tragic outcome to an awful situation, but does the anecdote help justify the U.S. government committing acts of torture? I don’t think so.

What Krauthammer has offered is a story in which bad guys kidnapped a good guy. If that’s grounds for torture, practically every kidnapping would compel U.S. officials — not just the CIA and the military, but state and local law enforcement, too — to torture suspected accomplices with some regularity. The “rare exception” would quickly become routine.

What’s more, what does it say about the strength of Krauthammer’s case that the single most compelling anecdote he can find to defend torture is a kidnapping in a foreign country 15 years ago in which the hostage was killed?

There’s worse to come. Krauthammer next launches an attack on Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress that ignores the obvious limitations and restrictions of the briefing process in such basic ways that it can’t be anything but intentional:

My column also pointed out the contemptible hypocrisy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is feigning outrage now about techniques that she knew about and did nothing to stop at the time.

My critics say: So what if Pelosi is a hypocrite? Her behavior doesn’t change the truth about torture.

But it does. The fact that Pelosi (and her intelligence aide) and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and dozens of other members of Congress knew about the enhanced interrogation and said nothing, and did nothing to cut off the funding, tells us something very important.

Our jurisprudence has the “reasonable man” standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.

On the morality of waterboarding and other “torture,” Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.

Note the lines I have bolded. First of all, Krauthammer is (deliberately, I have no doubt) ignoring the illegality of what was done in these interrogations. The morality of waterboarding, as judged by Pelosi or anyone else in Congress, is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if they “deemed the interrogations to be warranted.” Waterboarding and the other “enhanced” interrogation techniques used by the CIA were and are crimes. The House Speaker’s sense of how “warranted” they were does not do anything to make them legal, and that is the point here.

Having said that, Krauthammer’s conclusive leap that failure to vocally protest what they were told in the briefings, or to cut off funding for the interrogation program, somehow constitutes “proof” that Pelosi et al. approved of what was going on, is absurdly illogical — moronic, even. Except that Charles Krauthammer, although evil, is not stupid;  he knows the truth but simply chooses to act like he doesn’t.

Is it plausible to think that Krauthammer does not know that when Nancy Pelosi had her first and only briefing in September 2002 (a date no one disputes), regardless of whether or not the CIA lied to her about waterboarding, the fact that they had already been waterboarding Abu Zubaydah since August 2002 (also a date no one disputes) before informing anyone in Congress is a violation of law?

Most important: Is it plausible to think that Krauthammer does not know that Pelosi and her colleagues in the briefings were made to sign oaths before the briefings began swearing before the law that they would not discuss anything they were told inside the briefings to anyone on the outside — and that if they had tried to cut off funding for the interrogations (which is kind of hard to do if you can’t tell anyone why you want to cut off the funding) based on what they had been told, they would have been subject to criminal prosecution? Is it plausible to think that Krauthammer does not know that Pelosi et al. were not even permitted to take notes during the briefings? Is it plausible to believe that Krauthammer also did not know that the CIA briefers were allowed to take notes? Is it plausible to believe that Krauthammer did not know that only two or three key intelligence committee members, Republican and Democratic, were briefed at any one time in any one briefing, precisely to minimize the possibility that they could compare notes afterward on what they had been told? Only two or three members of Congress had any knowledge of what was revealed in any single briefing. Kinda hard to formulate a coherent or effective response under those conditions, no? Is it plausible to believe that Krauthammer is not fully aware of that?

No. It is not.

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