Torture and Pacifism

Marc Thiessen at National Review:

Jonah is absolutely right that opposition to waterboarding is an honorable position — but it’s a little more like pacifism than opposition to the death penalty. As I explain in Courting Disaster, the evidence is overwhelming that waterboarding helped stop a number of terrorist attacks. Which means if you oppose waterboarding in all circumstances, it means you are willing to accept as the price another terrorist attack.
That does not mean we have to waterboard Abdulmutallab, or even use enhanced techniques on him. Use of those tactics should be rare, and reserved only for those who we are confident are withholding actionable intelligence on active threats.
Those who argue that we should not used enhanced techniques even on the KSM’s of the world are effectively arguing from a position of radical pacifism. They are opposed to coercion no matter what the cost in innocent lives. We should respect their opinion, they way we respect the right of conscientious objectors to abstain from military service. But that does not mean we put pacifists in charge of decisions on war and peace. Same should go for decisions when it comes to interrogation.

Even the most cursory reflection on history demonstrates how blinkered this argument is. Were the Americans who fought World War II but objected to torturing knowledgeable German and Japanese POWs therefore radical pacifists? Are decorated combat veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq suddenly transformed into pacifists when they raise objections to waterboarding?

It wasn’t so long ago that torture advocates insisted that it must be preserved as an option to prevent imminent attacks with weapons of mass destruction. Their ticking time bomb scenario was always unrealistic, and a flawed foundation for a legal regime, but somehow we’ve reached a far worse point in the debate where torture is deemed acceptable absent any imminent threat, or else opposing torture is deemed tantamount to pacifism, despite the obvious and incontrovertible fact that plenty of people who demonstrably aren’t pacifists oppose it.

UPDATE: Isaac Chotiner adds:

The only bright spot in the cases of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up that Christmas Day flight, and the five men who went to Pakistan to receive terrorist training, was that members of the wannabe-terrorists’ families approached authorities because of their children’s behavior. As an ever-larger percentage of right-wing commentators demand that Abdulmutallab be water-boarded or worse, it does seem worth asking whether parents will offer their children up to law enforcement if they—the parents—believe their kids will be tortured.

Nor will captured terrorists say things like “there are more guys like me coming” if the result is always torture to find out more.