President Bush, reacting to a Congressional uproar over the disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions permitting the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects, defended the methods on Friday, declaring, “This government does not torture people.”Bush's reponse to critics was the lead story at today's Los Angeles Times as well:
The remarks, Mr. Bush’s first public comments on the memorandums, came at a hastily arranged Oval Office appearance before reporters. It was billed as a talk on the economy, but after heralding new job statistics, Mr. Bush shifted course to a subject he does not often publicly discuss: a once-secret Central Intelligence Agency program to detain and interrogate high-profile terror suspects.
The president's comments came amid disclosures this week of classified opinions issued by the Justice Department in 2005 that endorsed the legality of an array of interrogation tactics, ranging from sleep deprivation to simulated drowning.Both articles discuss Democratic Party outrage over not only the hint of coercive techniques, but the idea as well that the administation has an executive interest in keeping internal dicussions on interrogation methods out of the public realm.
Bush's decision to comment again on what once was among the most highly classified U.S. intelligence programs underscores the political peril surrounding the issue for the White House, which has had to retreat from earlier, aggressive assertions of executive power.
It also reflects the extent to which the debate over tactics in the war on terrorism remains unresolved, six years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The limits on CIA interrogators have been particularly fluid, shifting repeatedly under a succession of legal opinions, court rulings and executive orders.
In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush stressed the legality of the CIA program -- even while making the case for continued use of coercive methods.
"We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations," Bush said. But when the United States locates a terrorism suspect, he added: "You bet we're going to detain them, and you bet we're going to question them -- because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That's our job."
The outcry over torture - which is common all over the left wing of the political spectrum - represents a knee-jerk reaction to the issue. The United States needs more firmness in its approach to interrogations and the judicial treatment of terror suspects. This is a nation at war, and a tougher approach - either based on a forward-oriented morality or plain realpolitik - is warranted, and should be generating bipartisan support.
I wrote earlier on the justification of torture, citing Jerome Slater's Political Science Quarterly article, where he carefully examines the pros and cons of the practice, and comes down advocating aggressive interrrogations. Slater says torture's sometimes necessary:
Put differently, so long as the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks against innocents is taken seriously, as it must be, it is neither practicable nor morally persuasive to absolutely prohibit the physical coercion or even outright torture of captured terrorist plotters—undoubtedly evils, but lesser evils than preventable mass murder. In any case, although the torture issue is still debatable today, assuredly the next major attack on the United States—or perhaps Europe—will make it moot. At that point, the only room for practical choice will be between controlled and uncontrolled torture—if we are lucky. Far better, then, to avoid easy rhetoric and think through the issue while we still have the luxury of doing so.Read the Slater piece in full to get the full context of the argument. It's a tough call, but circumstances warrant the legality of coercive methods, including torture.