Charles Krauthammer joins the torture discussion. Torture is evil, he remarks, but then he poses two extensive exceptions. The first is the "24" scenario:
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.
Let's call this the pornographic scenario, as it is, um, very very unlikely to work out so cinematically. Besides, how do you know the terrorist–I mean the suicidal super criminal–will not have included the revealing of that information in the whole evil plot? It writes itself, I mean, really: suicide terrorist plans to get tortured to reveal more false information in order to deflect from the real original plot which wasn't real because the second one was, but it wasn't that because he was a deep cover agent pretending to be tortured in order to uncover the real terrorist mole torturer, etc.
The second justification relies on the first:
he 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.
It's the same thing–only more of a miniseries than a movie. Both of these justifications, if you can call them that, amount to claiming that torture is only wrong if you don't need to do it "to save lives." But I think this mischaracterizes the objections to torture rather seriously in that it presumes the objection to torture is analogous to the pacifist objection to war. He says as much:
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.
Whether that is a straw man or a false dichotomy I do not know at the moment. I'm inclined to say straw dichotomy, as he pretends the only opposition to his "real world" scenario is principled pacifism. It isn't. Here however is the real silly part of this piece:
Under those circumstances, you do what you have to do. And that includes waterboarding. (To call some of the other "enhanced interrogation" techniques — face slap, sleep interruption, a caterpillar in a small space — torture is to empty the word of any meaning.)
"Sleep interruption" is a fancy word for "sleep deprivation." Not to call these "torture," but rather some other well chosen bureaucratic euphemism, empties words of meaning. Or maybe I'm wrong–it's just an "enhanced signification technique" and Krauthammer's arguments aren't silly and fallacious, they're "enhanced justification techniques" which you can only use when you need to make a fallacious argument whose principle aim is to justify the unjustifiable, in order, of course, to save lives.
UPDATE: for a more thorough take on this piece of enhanced logical technique, read the Post's own Dan Froomkin's point by point analysis.