Enhancing interrogation

Charles Krauthammer can’t quite seem to make up his mind about torture. It’s not a very good idea, he says at one point; at another, he thinks maybe it’s okay if practiced in moderation. His latest effort to crystalize his own thinking (and ours) is in a Washington Post op-ed. There, he notes two exceptions to the no-torture rule, the second of which is the scenario “in which a high-value terrorist refuses to divulge crucial information that could save innocent lives.” To illustrate, he uses this example.

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel’s existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: “If we’d been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held.”

Aha, you may say: an instance where torture worked as advertised. Well, not exactly, because, as Krauthammer goes on to acknowledge,

The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of [the] moral calculus.

One alternative would have been to negotiate with the Palestinians who held Waxman. That, however, is a course the Israelis seem unwilling to follow, or even to consider. The consequence, increasingly, is a confrontational policy based largely on violence and revenge.

Two quotations come to mind. One, from the Old Testament, “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” The second is from an old medical joke, “The operation was a success, but the patient died.”


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