Friday, June 1, 2012

Still Beating the Drums for Torture

Charles Krauthammer has a column today on the Obama administration's use of drone strikes against terrorists. It is a strange column, because Krauthammer has no real problem with killing by drones. He just resents Obama's attempt to portray this as tough, since it is not nearly violent and bloody enough for Krauthammer's taste. Also, he claims to be bothered by the moral calculations of people who denounced Bush's torture regime but embrace drone killing. Which is, I would say, a good point; drone killings don't seem to me to be as clearly illegal as waterboarding, but they are still stupid and immoral, and I don't like the Obama political team's use of them in ads any better than Krauthammer does.

But here is where Krauthammer lost me:
Drone attacks are cheap — which is good. But the path of least resistance has a cost. It yields no intelligence about terror networks or terror plans.

One capture could potentially make us safer than 10 killings. But because of the moral incoherence of Obama’s war on terror, there are practically no captures anymore. What would be the point? There’s nowhere for the CIA to interrogate. And what would they learn even if they did, Obama having decreed a new regime of kid-gloves, name-rank-and-serial-number interrogation? 
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER THAT TORTURE WORKS. None. Experts at the FBI and British intelligence all swear up and down that "kid-gloves" interrogation works far better than abuse, and it is how we treated the high-ranking Nazis we captured during World War II. Krauthammer is still captured by the tough-guy fantasies that drove Bush and Cheney to adopt these methods in the first place.

Acting tough is not a policy. It is an emotional attitude, and a stupid one at that. In another part of the same column Krauthammer vents about how "weak" Obama has looked all around the world:
standing helplessly by as thousands are massacred in Syria; being played by Iran in nuclear negotiations, now reeling with the collapse of the latest round in Baghdad; being treated with contempt by Vladimir Putin, who blocks any action on Syria or Iran and adds personal insult by standing up Obama at the latter’s G-8 and NATO summits. 
We should intervene in Syria, at who knows what cost, toward who knows what outcome, because not doing so looks weak?  And who bloody cares if Vladimir Putin wants to strike a pose with Russian voters by refusing to meet with Obama? Substantively, US-relations are better than they have been in years.

Krauthammer's rhetoric tells you all you really need to know about torture as a policy. It is the gut reaction of people who can't control their fear and rage, so they vent it at whatever enemy comes to hand. It is an upwelling of hatred, a spasm of contempt for life's refusal to be neat and under control. An adult temper tantrum. It is not a rational solution to any problem. It is an evil act done for childish motives, and we should never stop condemning it.

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