Not to seem like I’m picking on Joe, but I’ll point out a few things in connection with his post below on whether waterboarding “worked” and helped us find Osama bin Laden.
1. Michael Mukasey, former attorney general, has said that John McCain is wrong about the efficacy of waterboarding in the hunt for bin Laden. See his statement here.
2. Of course the question of its efficacy has nothing to do with whether the technique was lawful, and whether it was lawful does not wholly answer the question of its morality. I take it that those who describe waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) as “torture” are taking it as given that the techniques are immoral, and perhaps unlawful too. But people who are not convinced that waterboarding is torture are not liable to be moved by repeated accusations that they must regard torture as morally licit. So far that has been the trend of argument among most of the critics of EIT in this renewed debate.
3. Clarity in this debate is not achieved by collapsing the very substantial difference between waterboarding as practiced by our CIA, and the actions of Japanese tormentors of Allied prisoners in WWII, which led to war crimes charges. This red herring is, I’m sorry to say, used by my friend Jeff Jacoby, who relies on an inflammatory op-ed from four years ago.
4. It is not entirely irrelevant to this discussion to note that waterboarding was used for a considerable time in the training regimen of U.S. armed forces, specifically the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course used for special forces and others. The United States military is not in the habit of subjecting its own troops to torture.
It seems to me that responsible debate has to begin with observations like these. For my part, I have yet to experience any moral pangs over the waterboarding of three unlawful enemy combatants. But others are welcome to theirs, and free to try to induce such pangs in me. I don’t promise them much hope of success.