- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some people seem to see nothing between zero and infinity. Things are either categorically all right or categorically off-limits. This kind of reasoning — if it is reasoning — is reflected in the stampede for a congressional ban on torture.

In general policy, there is no torture to ban. Isolated individuals here and there may abuse their authority and violate existing laws and policies in their treatment of prisoners, but these are in fact violations.

When some people violate laws against murder, no one thinks that requires congressional legislation to add to the existing laws against murder. It calls for enforcing existing laws.

Banning torture categorically by federal legislation takes on a new dimension in an era of international terrorist networks that may, within this generation, have nuclear weapons.

If a captured terrorist knows where a nuclear bomb has been planted in an American city, and when it is timed to explode, are millions to be incinerated because we are too squeamish to get that information by any means necessary? What a price to pay for moral exhibitionism or political grandstanding.

Even in less extreme circumstances, and even if we don’t intend to torture captured terrorists, do we have to reduce our leverage by informing all of them in advance they can stonewall indefinitely if captured, without fear of that fate?

This is not only an era of international terrorist networks but also of runaway litigation and runaway judges. Do we really want a federal law that will enable captured terrorists to take their cases to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals?

Regardless of what the free-wheeling judges in that unpredictable body may decide, they unlikely will to do so quickly. Anybody can call anything “torture” at virtually no cost to themselves but at huge costs in money and delay to the efforts to protect Americans from terrorism.

There is no penalty for false claims but potentially deadly consequences for letting international terrorists tie up our legal system by exercising rights granted to American citizens and now thoughtlessly extended to noncitizens bent on killing American citizens and destroying our society.

After decades of ignoring the fact rights and responsibilities go together, it was perhaps inevitable an undereducated and easily confused generation should include some who do not understand the rights granted to captured troops by the Geneva Convention apply to those who accept the convention’s terms. They do not apply to people who are not troops and have blatantly violated the convention’s whole framework.

For more than two centuries there has been a tendency on the political left, here and abroad, to make wrongdoers look like victims rather than people victimizing others. So it was perhaps inevitable some would extend this from criminals to terrorists.

But it was not inevitable most would carry things this far or so many others would be taken in by the rhetoric of moral superiority — or be oblivious to the implications of an international network of cutthroats bent on destroying us even at the cost of their own lives.

Think of those implications. During the last election, Osama bin Laden warned Americans places that voted for President Bush would be targeted for terrorist reprisals.

We could ignore him then. But will our children and grandchildren be able to ignore similar threats after the terrorists are given nuclear weapons by Iran or sold nuclear weapons by North Korea?

This is a chilling prospect at best. It is madness to tie our hands in any way while trying to forestall or counter the catastrophic potential of international terrorism.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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