Charles Krauthammer has written an important piece for the Weekly Standard on torture. Krauthammer argues that there should be two exceptions to an anti-torture policy. The first covers the “ticking time-bomb” case — the terrorist who knows when and where the bomb in, say, New York City is going to explode. The second covers high-level terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Krauthammer does a great job of exposing John McCain’s phony position on this issue. McCain appears to understand the need for Krauthammer’s two exceptions, but wants to hide the ball, going so far as to urge the passage of absolutist anti-torture legislation, while arguing that the president can always violate it in an emergency. McCain also mischaracterizes Israel’s position on torture when he invokes the Israeli experience in support of his absolutist position.
McCain is fond of asserting that you can’t get reliable information through torture. In doing so, he relies on his experience in North Vietnam. However, the ineffectiveness of the crude tactics of his prison guards of 40 years ago does not demonstrate that the tactics available to us today are ineffective. In fact, it appears that our tactics worked well with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If they didn’t work, why would Vice President Cheney and our top military leaders be so insistent on not taking them off the table. Surely McCain does not buy into the notion that Cheney takes the position he does because he is evil. In fact, as noted above, McCain’s position isn’t really that different from Cheney’s. It’s just that Cheney is willing to take the heat for defending tactics that will save lives. In this instance, Cheney, not McCain, is the American hero.