Krauthammer’s best example

KRAUTHAMMER’S BEST EXAMPLE…. The Washington Post‘s Charles Krauthammer received some well-deserved flak after his pro-torture column a couple of weeks ago. He argued at the time, that “the ticking time bomb” is a reasonable excuse for torture. “An innocent’s life is at stake,” Krauthammer said. “The bad guy you have captured possesses information that could save this life. He refuses to divulge. In such a case, the choice is easy.”

The general response to this is that the proverbial ticking time bomb is a fantasy scenario, best left to action shows on television. Today, the conservative columnist responds by pointing to a specific example, that actually happened, to help bolster his point.

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel’s existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: “If we’d been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held.”

Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin’s moral calculus.

Krauthammer had weeks to come up with a real-world scenario to help prove his case for justifiable torture, and this was the best he could do.

There was no ticking time bomb in this anecdote. There was a soldier who’d been captured by his enemy. Obviously the government wanted to save the man’s life and mount a rescue operation, but officials brutally tortured an accomplice and the soldier was nevertheless killed.

It’s clearly a tragic outcome to an awful situation, but does the anecdote help justify the U.S. government committing acts of torture? I don’t think so.

What Krauthammer has offered is a story in which bad guys kidnapped a good guy. If that’s grounds for torture, practically every kidnapping would compel U.S. officials — not just the CIA and the military, but state and local law enforcement, too — to torture suspected accomplices with some regularity. The “rare exception” would quickly become routine.

What’s more, what does it say about the strength of Krauthammer’s case that the single most compelling anecdote he can find to defend torture is a kidnapping in a foreign country 15 years ago in which the hostage was killed?