Sunday, October 01, 2006


Dean Barnett on Torture

Dean Barnett, once known primarily for Soxblog and now a regular guest-blogger at, has published a folksy FAQ on the subject of "torture", a topic that's gotten a lot of press lately.

I read it with interest... and found very little to disagree with:
Let me say what I do support: When it comes to high value targets in the war on terror, wannabe evil-doers who possess or might possess important information, I support any measures necessary to extract that information.

It seems to me that there are two primary kinds of objections to this that we hear these days. One: aren't you afraid that such evil techniques might be used against American citizens, for trivial reasons or no reasons whatsoever? (Yes, I do worry about that. But I worry more about terrorists with immediate plans to kill large numbers of people. It's a long-standing dilemma for intelligence personnel, and it comes up a lot more often than you might think: you have a captive, and he knows something about an attack that hasn't happened yet. He doesn't want to talk about it -- but if he can be persuaded to talk, a great many lives may be saved. Given that the captive is, at minimum, a terror sympathizer and abetter, if not an actual perpetrator, I don't have many qualms about getting him to talk -- particularly if it can be done without inflicting serious damage. More on that in a minute.)

The second objection to this sort of thing rests on what the guys at Power Line have been calling "terrorist's rights". And, as I indicated above, I'm not a big fan of terrorist's rights. Terrorists, remember, are the people who assert the "right" to blow up airliners full of people; who hide in civilian populations, callously risking civilian casualties so that their victims can be made to feel guilty for fighting back; who boast about violating every rule of civilized behavior known. And yet, when they are arrested or detained, they scream loudly about the violation of their civil liberties -- or get others to scream loudly on their behalf.

No, I don't like torture; who does? But I believe there are things worse than torture... and sometimes, a person has to make a choice, and take responsibility for the consequences of that choice.

I don't want hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands, to die in a terrorist attack, when we could have prevented it using information within our grasp. On the other hand, I also don't want our troops to torture prisoners routinely; or, perhaps more importantly, I don't want our troops -- or anyone! -- to be immune from the consequences of what they do.

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