- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

In defense of coercive interrogation

In “Bush and torture” (Op-Ed, Monday), Nat Hentoff quotes various military commanders as being opposed to torture.

Certainly there are moral objections to inflicting pain in order to obtain intelligence. But there is another side to this issue. Terrorists who set out to bomb other people are by definition torturers. Survivors of their bombs, who are burned, mutilated and blinded, suffer pain for the rest of their lives. Suppose, a bomber is caught in possession of a vehicle loaded with explosives that has failed to ignite. Knowing that a common tactic is to set of multiple bombs (as happened in London in July 2005), our society should surely be entitled to inflict discomfort on that individual to forestall an explosion that would kill and maim hundreds of people.

Furthermore, our police forces should be trained and equipped to carry out such coercive interrogation. Let those who would kill and maim indiscriminately be aware of how they will be treated. And let those who find such a policy morally repugnant ask themselves how the police should react if the object we are looking for is a nuclear device.


McLean, Va.

Rethinking Iraq policy

Professor Anthony Celso in his “A different plan in Iraq” (Op-Ed, Monday) rightly notes the need to rethink current policy. His proposal to partially disengage and then try to pit our rivals against one another, however, raises serious practical and ethical questions.

Its main premise is to hope for a lengthy chain of events leading to the exhaustion of our adversaries in an expanded regional conflict. We presumably would have to manipulate it very successfully. Our track record in doing so is not enviable. Yet all this assumes that an unusual number of key contingencies go as planned. What if they do not? The author does not mention how these conflicts could unfold or spread in ways the United States surely would not want. Past and recent U.S. efforts in the Middle East show how hard it is to predict and control who will do what to whom when in a conflict (or not). The speculative optimism underlying the position needs shoring up, at best.

Suppose all goes as promised. Oddly little is said in the hoped-for “bloodbath” about the thousands of innocent lives it would claim or grievously disrupt. The loss and diminution of life, innocent and not, might far outweigh the present dismal arrangements. I often ask myself and other people in the academy or media how we would investigate our theoretical proposals if we and our families had to live under their real-life consequences, even at their worst. I don’t know the solutions, and likely few of us would choose to live under the ones we have. Still, before investing in the blood-soaked vision of a larger regional conflict, we should look first at possible outcomes the proposal fails to mention and the ethical implications of some that it does.


Chestertown, Md.

Whatever happened to legislating?

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