WHAT KIND OF HYPOTHETICAL IS THAT?…. Eric Holder’s unequivocal responses to questions about torture yesterday should help bring some much-needed clarity to U.S. policy in the future. But before the confirmation process continues, let’s not overlook just how ridiculous Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was when he approached the issue yesterday.
The exchange was helpful in learning about both the senator and the nominee. Cornyn wanted Holder to admit that he’d torture a terrorist in a “ticking-time-bomb scenario,” in order to “save perhaps tens of thousands of lives.” Holder responded sensibly, noting that we have interrogation methods that aren’t torture, and that torture wouldn’t produce reliable intelligence anyway.
Cornyn was undeterred, asking again about what Holder would do if “the only thing standing between you and deaths of tens of thousands of Americans” was torture. Holder saw no reason to play along, responding, “Again, I think your hypothetical assumes a premise that I’m not willing to concede.”
Cornyn, unaware of how absurd he appeared, insisted that Holder “assume” that the only way to get necessary information was to torture a suspect. The A.G. nominee replied, “I don’t think I can do that.”
Nor should he. Cornyn’s Jack Bauer fantasy has no place in a confirmation hearing for the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer. As Ali Frick explained, “Intelligence officials have repeatedly rejected the idea of a ticking time bomb scenario. Jack Cloonan, who spent 25 years as an FBI special agent and interrogated members of al Qaeda, said that he has ‘been hard pressed to find a situation where anybody’ can say ‘that they’ve ever encountered the ticking bomb scenario’ when interrogating terrorists. He said it is a ‘red herring’ and ‘[i]n the real world it doesn’t happen.’”