The torture apologists won’t quit

THE TORTURE APOLOGISTS WON’T QUIT…. The issue of torture was apparently raised in last night’s Republican presidential candidate debate, with three of the five featured candidates — Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain — saying they’d waterboard terrorist suspects under certain circumstances.

Pawlenty went further, insisting that President Obama should be “asked to explain” his opposition to torture “if” abusive techniques contributed to bin Laden’s death. (Pawlenty said two years ago that waterboarding does damages “not only to the individual but to our values more broadly.”)

As this GOP rhetoric continues, despite evidence that torture played no meaningful role in the successful mission in Abbottabad, it’s worth touting this wise New York Times editorial.

Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.

This was not the “ticking time bomb” scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners “directly led” to the redoubt, why didn’t the Bush administration follow that trail years ago? […]

The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly — in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.

Dahlia Lithwick also had a terrific piece on the subject this week.

The folks who think otherwise are now using half-facts and unverifiable assertions to ask another question: Does torture work? Unsurprisingly, they claim that it does. That’s nice. Let’s ignore them. As former interrogator Matthew Alexander explains, even if it did work, we still wouldn’t do it — because it’s immoral and leads to all sorts of false claims and wasted time. The answer to question No. 1 — should America torture? — has nothing to do with the bogus questions being raised today.

In short, if you are being led by a handful of torture apologists to “reconsider” the efficacy of torture, ask yourself whether you have yet heard even one credible account that water-boarding led us to Bin Laden. I haven’t. At most, I have heard that it may have played some very small part in a vast tangle of intelligence and surveillance and patient detective work, all of which is unproven and — more important — impossible to disprove. A handful of cynics may want to relitigate the efficacy of torture based on facts not in evidence. The rest of us should continue to remind them that they have been answering the wrong question all along.