Clifford D. May has some thoughts on the debate over interrogating terrorist prisoners:
On one extreme of the debate over interrogating terrorists are the Jack Bauers, those who — like the lead character in Fox’s hit series 24 — think you do whatever it takes to get the information you need from someone plotting mass murder. At the other extreme is the antiwar Left: They wouldn’t harm a hair on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s head to save Disneyland at Christmas.
Part of the problem is how the debate is framed from the start: One side says some terrorists will reveal important things if subjected to discomfort far short of torture. The other side says that any discomfort in an interrogation is torture.
Definition of torture. Torture should be ruled out. But is waterboarding a form of torture? That seems to be the point where the debate stalls for lack of consensus. It looks awfully uncomfortable and scary, but is it in the same category as drilling into knees and skulls, or pulling out fingernails and fingers?
I also wonder: How much must we tell al-Qaeda and other terrorists about what to expect? If terrorists know they may be waterboarded, they will prepare themselves to withstand the ordeal. In fact, waterboarding has been used to train and toughen American commandoes and spies.
I say let Congress decide on waterboarding. If the members believe it is torture, outlaw it; if not, clearly describe the limited, supervised circumstances in which it may be used. Perhaps Congress informally has decided already.
Don’t torture prisoners, but don’t tell them we don’t torture them.