Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Torturing Over Torture in Obamaland: What The Pundits Are Missing & The Zelikow Memo

Posted by K.E. White on April 23, 2009

Summary: Members of the Obama administration and the DC punditry should read Philip Zelikow’s recent blog at Foreign Policy magazine. He reminds us that the question over torture isn’t whether Obamaland botched its handling or the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques, but the morality and consequences of prusuing a policy torture. This is not to suggest morality of the day should override laws, but rather when pursuing a policy it may be sometimes best to ask ‘ought we be doing this?’ before asking ‘how can we do this?’. Sometimes seeking out covert justifications for a decision open more troublesome dillemas.

It’s been a tough week for the Obama administration. Pundits have almost universally failing marks to Obamaland’s handling of the torture issue. Either he’s being too soft (not going after the interrogators and failing to fess up to the intelligence gained by Bush era enhanced interrogation techniques) or he’s being too hard (chasing after lawyers who were doing what they could to defend American security).

And the pundits don’t stop there. How President Barack Obama aired the issue has brought stiff rebukes. Only releasing some memos has opened the White House to charges that it’s cherry picking. And it hasn’t helped that in a draft memo CIA Director Dennis Blair admitted enhanced interrogation techniques worked, only to have it deleted upon official release.

So not only are the wing-nuts on both sides unhappy, the press has caught the White House not being transparent on a tier-one issue—analogous to catching a teenager with their pants down at the school dance.

Listening on torture: Philip Zelikow recent Foreign Policy article offers some valuable, if indirect, advice to the administration. Before deciding on how to deal with torture, we must first ask ourselves what moral and practical consequences are there to permitting enhanced interrogation techniques? But in calling for a moral analysis of torture, Zelikow implicitly suggests the value of having a frank and open discussion. While Americans know Obama is against torture, it might be worth reminding why.  Now none of this is surprising: the torture issue is thorny, and there was no ‘perfect’ solution for Obama come to. This becomes painfully obvious when one sees conservatives (read Dick Cheney) sensing the torture issue as the wedge issue to revitalize Republican Party (particularly if there is another terrorist attack on America or its allies).

But this all overlooks a basic point: yes, torture can work. But does that mean only torture works, and how is American society impacted by water-boarding terrorists? By bypassing this valuable discussion (or simply trying to recycle news-cycles), the media has flooded the public with talking points & juvenile discussions over who’s up & who’s down.

Absent in this high-minded prattle has been serious analysis of this vital moral and national security issue.

And that is why Philip Zelikow’s recent blog entry on Foreign Policy is so important. There Zelikow reveals his authorship of a dissenting memo towards the Bush administration’s legal reasoning on enhanced interrogation techniques. Boilded down he brings these crucial points to the debate over torture:

read full article


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