- - Wednesday, December 17, 2014


The Feinstein hit on the CIA has occasioned a new round of soul-searching (“Democrats define ‘politicization’ with so-called torture report,” Web, Dec. 15). Can we define torture, or is it subjective? Should we apply the Potter Stewart approach to the definition of torture, recalling that the Supreme Court justice acknowledged that he could not define obscenity but knew it when he saw it? It seems that torture, like beauty or obscenity, is in the eye of the beholder, that waterboarding holds water in some quarters but is torture in others.

There are those who believe that Marquis of Queensberry rules should be applied to those who have loosed upon us an asymmetric combat characterized by beheading, rape and crucifixion of captives, as well as the use of commercial airliners against tall buildings. The animating principle appears to be the idea that if we retain our civilized composure, jihadists will magically locate their own while being questioned, as if butchering captives and setting explosives in trains and buses is somehow equivalent to run-of-the-mill street crime.

We must recognize that Islamist terrorists live in a world of their own making, that they deride and reject the Judeo-Christian ethic, that they see our civility as weakness and use it against us. Patient and noncoercive questioning, for instance the sort employed by William Skardon (1904-1987), legendary chief interrogator of MI5 in the years following World War II, is simply not up to the task. In fact, this oh-so-civilized effort failed miserably with the oh-so-civilized Cambridge 5.

Let’s agree not to torture. Now let’s define torture.


Cincinnati, Ohio

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