Friday, November 02, 2007


Chuck Schumer on Torture

As seen on Instapundit:
There are times when we all get in high dudgeon. We ought to be reasonable about this... I think there are probably very few people in this room -- or in America -- who would say that torture should never, ever be used, particularly if thousands of lives are at stake.

Take the hypothetical: if we knew that there was a nuclear bomb, hidden in an American city, and we believed that some kind of torture -- fairly severe, maybe -- would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off -- my guess is, most Americans and most Senators -- maybe all -- would say, "do what you have to do".

So it's easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you're in the foxhole, it's a very different deal. And I respect, I think we all respect, the fact that the President's in the foxhole every day, so he can hardly be blamed for asking you, or his White House counsel, or the Department of Defense, to figure out when it comes to torture, what the law allows and when the law allows it, and what there is permission to do.

[. . .]

We certainly don't want torture to be used willy-nilly, we don't... [at the] whim of a lieutenant to say, 'Hey, there's security at stake here'... we should use it, but we also don't want the situation like I mentioned in Chicago to preclude it.

But it's gotta be done carefully. And if it's public -- and if there's debate -- you can be sure it'll be careful. That's what the founding fathers in their wisdom said.
Audio clips here and here.

According to the Drudge Report, this was recorded during the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Terror Policy: Tuesday, June 8, 2004.

Perhaps Sen. Schumer has seen fit to change his mind since then. But perhaps not -- the issue today, of course, is the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General, in spite of his refusal (thus far) to condemn the practice of 'waterboarding'. And, according to MSNBC, "Sen. Schumer has been uncharacteristically quiet on this issue, refusing to comment on Mukasey's answer on waterboarding."

(For the record: my military background does not include any experience with waterboarding. I know about it only what I read in the newspapers. I welcome comments from those with more experience, if either of my readers have it.)

I've written about torture before (here and here, for example), and my opinions have not changed. Yes, torture is abhorrent, and must never be used casually. Any soldier, or policeman, or intelligence operative, who feels that torture is absolutely necessary to get the job done, should know that he or she will have to answer for it -- and that unnecessary torture will be punished, harshly, by the law.

But that is not to say that necessary torture does not exist. Nor is it reasonable to declare, in hearing of our enemies, that we will never torture them. (What have they to fear from interrogation, in that case? Why should anyone ever tell us anything?)

My hat's off to Sen. Schumer for having the guts to tell it like it is, bluntly, without mincing words. (Note that he did not speak of waterboarding specifically; he spoke of torture, in general. I'll leave for another day the question of whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture or not; others can discuss this far better than I can.)

That a Democratic Senator said this, about an unpopular Republican President, in an election year, is all the more to be commended.

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