Looks Like He Made It Up

In his press conference Wednesday evening, Barack Obama invoked Winston Churchill in support of his anti-waterboarding position, quoting Churchill to the effect that “we don’t torture,” even during the extremities of World War II. We expressed skepticism about Obama’s invocation of Churchill here. Now, Churchill student Richard Langworth confirms that Obama was wrong:

In his press conference of 29 April, in response to a question on the disclosure of top secret memos on the use of “enhanced interrogation methods,” Mr. Obama said:

I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, ‘We don’t torture,’ when the entire British–all of the British people–were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat….the reason was that Churchill understood — you start taking shortcuts, over time, that corrodes what’s best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.

While it’s nice to hear the President invoke Sir Winston, the quotation is unattributed and almost certainly incorrect. While Churchill did express such sentiments with regard to prison inmates, he said no such thing about prisoners of war, enemy combatants or terrorists, who were in fact tortured by British interrogators during World War II.

The word “torture” appears 156 times in my digital transcript of Churchill’s 15 million published words (books, articles, speeches, papers) and 35 million words about him–but not once in the subject context. Similarly, key phrases like “character of a country” or “erodes the character” do not track. …

Churchill spoke frequently about torture, mostly enemy murders of civilians. His daughter once told me, “He would have done anything to win the war, and I daresay he had to do some pretty rough things–but they didn’t unman him.” But if Churchill is on record about “enhanced interrogation,” his words have yet to surface.

Obama apparently relied on left-wing internet crank Andrew Sullivan for the fake Churchill quote, which is a bit worrisome in itself.

Via Jonah Goldberg at The Corner.

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