Saturday, February 27, 2010

Harold Pollack et al (49 of 'em) on Health Care: Open Letter

It's Time to Act

Harold Pollack

February 26, 2010

Dear Mr. President, Congressmen and Congresswomen:

Or health care system is in crisis. America has higher per-capita medical spending than any other industrial democracy, Health care spending continues to increase, and is projected to reach $3.3 trillion by 2019. Health insurance premiums are rising rapidly, particularly within individual and small group markets. Meanwhile, the financial security traditionally offered by health insurance continues to erode, with rapid increases in out-of-pocket spending. Rising public health care program costs are driving large, ultimately unsustainable state and federal budget deficits.

It is likely that more than 50 million Americans are now uninsured, with more losing coverage every day due to the twin challenges of deep recession and rising health care costs. Although this country has some of the best medical technology in the world, the quality and effectiveness of medical care often falls short of what every American deserves.

This week, the President put forth a proposal for finishing the job of enacting comprehensive health care reform with which Congress has struggled for the past year. Yesterday the President, House, and Senate leaders from parties spent much of the day in a nationally televised health care summit. This meeting identified areas of bipartisan agreement—many of which are already included in pending legislation. It also identified areas where future bipartisan agreement might be possible, such as malpractice reform. Yet the meeting also underscored the profound differences that separate the leadership of the two parties. Most notably, the President's proposal would cover 30 million people who would otherwise remain uninsured. The Congressional Budget office reports that Republican proposals would only expand coverage to 3 million.

We commend the President’s pursuit of bipartisan solutions. Yet the summit made plain that it is now time to move decisively and quickly to enact comprehensive reform. We believe that the only workable process at this point is to use the President's proposal to finish the job. After long debate, the House and Senate have passed two similar bills that do crucial things to improve US health care. All that needs to happen, if Republicans insist on blocking final improvements, is for the House and Senate to make the required adjustments and to pass these bills by majority vote in both houses. Given the likelihood of a filibuster, this legislation will likely require the majority-vote reconciliation process. Reconciliation has been used by both Democrats and Republicans to enact welfare reform, Reagan and Bush-era tax cuts, the state children's health insurance programs (SCHIP), and other key legislation. Reconciliation is an appropriate and justified mechanism to secure an up-or-down vote on this critical bill.

The President's proposal incorporates many of the best ideas proposed by Democrats and Republicans, patients, clinicians, and researchers. It combines and strengthens many elements of the House and Senate bills and repairs their deficits. It offers a strong foundation for comprehensive reform. Fully implemented, the President's proposal would:

Cover more than 30 million people who would otherwise go uninsured.

Provide financial help to make coverage affordable for millions of working families.

Strengthen competition and oversight of private insurance through insurance exchanges and increased regulation of private insurers and their rates

Provide unprecedented protection for Americans living with chronic illnesses and disabilities

Make significant investments in community health centers, prevention, and wellness.

Increase financial support to states to finance expanded Medicaid insurance coverage

Eliminate the Medicare prescription drug "donut hole"

Eliminate objectionable provisions such as special funds for Nebraska's Medicaid program

Reduce the federal budget deficit over the next ten years and beyond.

Provide a platform to improve the quality and economy of the health care system and to slow future growth of health expenditures.

We, the signatories of this letter, come from different perspectives. Some of us are long-standing advocates of progressive causes. Some of us are nonpartisan or identify as political moderates. From these differing perspectives, we agree on one thing: After months of extensive debate, expert analysis, and the historic passage of House and Senate bills, it is time to pass a final bill. The President's proposal provides a foundation for finishing this work -- and for future steps to build on this foundation..

It may be possible, as the President suggested, to incorporate proposals put forth by the Republican leadership. This proposal already incorporates many traditional Republican ideas for health reform, such as tax credits to help middle-income Americans pay for health care, organizing markets through health insurance exchanges, and creating a regulatory structure that allows insurers to sell coverage across state lines.

Time is short, however. If Republican leaders do not promptly offer constructive proposals in the context of comprehensive legislation that has already passed both the Senate and the House, Congress must move forward.

It is time to act....

Marriage William Carlos Williams


So different,

this man

And this woman:

A stream flowing

In a field.

Adam Mickiewicz The Storm


The rudder breaks, the sails are ripped, the roar
Of waters mingles with the ominous sound
Of pumps and panic voices; all around
Torn ropes. The sun sets red, we hope no more -
The tempest howls in triumph; from the shore
Where wet cliffs rising tier on tier surround
The ocean chaos, death advances, bound
To carry ramparts broken long before,
One man has swooned, one wrings his hands ,one
Upon his friends, embracing them. Some say
a prayer to death that it may pass them by.
One traveller sits apart and sadly thinks:
,,Happy the man who faints or who can pray
Or has a friend to whom to say goodbye."

Translated by Dorothea Prall Radin, 1938

Robert Creeley's The Rain

The Rain


All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quite, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted uponso often? Is it

that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me

something other than this,
something not so insistent--
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.

Be wet
with a decent happiness.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Email to Andy McCarthy

Dear Sir:

I agree with you on many issues including the tailored and highly specified use of water boarding and also the military based processing of enemy combatants, including determining their status, or some developed special federal court for same.

But a point of order if you will: I think water boarding is torture under American law.

To wit and for example:

18 U.S.C. § 2340

1. "torture" means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

2. "severe mental pain or suffering" means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from - (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (C) the threat of imminent death; or (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality;

Isn’t repeatedly punching someone very hard for the lengths of time that water boarding takes, the severe infliction of physical pain and suffering? In fact, on the above language, hitting someone really hard just once is the severe infliction of physical pain or suffering.

On that basis, and again on the above language, I can’t see the torture of hard hitting—once or repeatedly—and the non torture of inducing the experience of drowning and dying wherein rational consciousness is overwhelmed and panic created, sheer animal survival mechanisms are induced. Distinguishing between hard hitting and the relative benignity of inducing the experience of death by drowning seems poor and obfuscating legalese.

Water boarding might also be the threat of imminent death.

Not for nothing, therefore, does the Army Field Manual forbid water boarding, if I have that ban right.

My larger point is that the water boarding spade be called the spade it is, and then the argument should proceed from there.

Itzik Basman

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nice Little Piece on Apologizing

Too Many Apologies

By Thomas Sowell

Tiger Woods doesn't owe me an apology. Nothing that he has ever done has cost me a dime nor an hour of sleep.

This is not a plea to be "non-judgmental." I am very judgmental about all sorts of things, including Tiger Woods' bad behavior. But that is very different from saying that he somehow owes me an apology.

For all I know, my neighbors may be judgmental when I drive out of my driveway in a 15-year-old car. But they have never said anything to me about it, and I have never offered them an apology. This is not equating driving a 15-year-old car with what Tiger Woods did. But the point is that any apology he might make should be made to his family, who were hurt, not to the public, who might be disappointed in him, but not really hurt.

Public apologies to people who are not owed any apology have become one of the many signs of the mushy thinking of our times. So are apologies for things that somebody else did.
Among the most absurd apologies have been apologies for slavery by politicians. For one thing, slavery is not something you can apologize for, any more than you can apologize for murder.
If someone says to you that he murdered someone near and dear to you, what are you supposed to say? "No problem, we all make mistakes"? Not bloody likely!

Slavery is too serious for an apology and somebody else being a slaveowner is not something for you to apologize for. When somebody who has never owned a slave apologizes for slavery to somebody who has never been a slave, then what began as mushy thinking has degenerated into theatrical absurdity-- or, worse yet, politics.

Slavery has existed all over the planet for thousands of years, with black, white, yellow and other races being both slaves and enslavers. Does that mean that everybody ought to apologize to everybody else for what their ancestors did? Or are the only people who are supposed to feel guilty the ones who have money that others want to talk them out of?

This craze for aimless apologies is part of a general loss of a sense of personal responsibility in our time. We are supposed to feel guilty for what other people did but there are a thousand cop-outs for what we ourselves did to those we did it to.

Back in the 1960s, when so many foolish ideas flourished simply because they were new, a New York Times columnist tried to make the case that we were all somehow responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

That was considered to be Deep Stuff. It made you one of the special folks when you believed that, instead of one of the rest of us poor dumb slobs who believed that the man who shot him was responsible.

For more than a century, the intelligentsia have been trying to get us to focus on the "root causes" of crime-- supposedly created by "society"-- instead of locking up thieves or executing murderers.

If some people don't have the money or the achievements of others, that too is society's fault, in the eyes of those for whom personal responsibility is an outmoded idea.

Personal responsibility is a real problem for those who want to collectivize society and take away our power to make our own decisions, transferring that power to third parties like themselves, who imagine themselves to be so much wiser and nobler than the rest of us.

Aimless apologies are just one of the incidental symptoms of an increasing loss of a sense of personal responsibility-- without which a whole society is in jeopardy.

The police cannot possibly maintain law and order by themselves. Millions of people can monitor their own behavior better than any third parties can. Cops can cope with that segment of society who have no sense of personal responsibility, but not if that segment becomes a large part of the whole population.

Yet increasing numbers of educators and the intelligentsia seem to have devoted themselves to undermining or destroying a sense of personal responsibility and making "society" responsible instead. Aimless apologies are just one small symptom of this larger and more dangerous attitude.



Jane Austen dealt with these themes. And in the cloistered social and class contexts out of which she wrote of marriage as: economic bargain, expansion of family empire, social placement and attaining sinecure, she could still portray an ideal of marriage grounded on love as the coming togther of mature, well matched and complemetary sensibilities.

Flaubert's vision is so mordant that he makes Austen’s idea of marriage based on love, or any idea of marriage based on love, an impossibility. In him, there seems only sentimental vacuity, base exploitation of it, or the sheer hum drum of matches founded on calculated need, where personal compromise, sacrifice and self suppression in exchange for financial security and stability are marriage's grounds. From an oppressive and and almost totalitarian provincial conventionality and the sentimental, unrealizable, romantic dream of its escape, comes the inevitable tragedy that befalls Emma Bovary and her husband too in his unreal and perverse idealization of her.

What I find missing in the discussion here is, what I would argue, love, as complementary difference, as a necessary condition of, as someone put it, being married well.


So different, this man
And this woman:
A stream flowing
In a field.

William Carlos Williams

Further Sullivan Wieseltier Issue







And this analysis I wrote a couple of years ago:

Everybody is misreading Kristol, and seminally so is Sullivan.

Kristol's point is that the mask of Obama's elitism slipped. I challenge anyone textually to show that Kristol attacked the sincerity of Obama's religion. It may or may not be persuasive to enfold Obama's remarks into Marx's view of religion, but Kristol's other point against Obama is that he doesn't credit small town “common folk” with the same sincerity and depth of faith that mark his own. To wit: ..."What’s more, he’s written eloquently in his memoir, 'Dreams From My Father,' of his own religious awakening upon hearing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s 'Audacity of Hope' sermon, and of the complexity of his religious commitment. You’d think he’d do other believers the courtesy of assuming they’ve also thought about their religious beliefs..”.

Against this, in his boyish excitement, Sullivan entirely misreads Kristol. To wit: ..."Bill Kristol, trained in the same politics as Hillary Clinton, now argues that Obama's remarks in a fundraiser q and a are the 'real Obama' - and that his voluminous writing and speaking about the sincerity of his own religious faith, and of others, are presumably 'masks.' " ...

Note the "are presumably". Sullivan is clearly off on a frolic of his own. While Kristol hits Obama for not crediting “common folks” with his own depth and sincerity of faith--which shot presupposes that depth and sincerity--Sullivan, over-excitedly, gets Kristol completely and invertedly wrong, attributing to him the canard that Kristol attacked Obama's own religious sincerity. Indubitably, the slipped mask is of elitism and not of religious fakery. Then Sullivan's final comment: ..."A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith. That's where they've gone to already. And it's only the middle of April. What are they so scared of?"...

Wieseltier reads this plausibly as Jew-baiting.

Sullivan's defences are the following: "they've" and "they" refers to Republicans, (which, in context, makes sense); and that "A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity.." goes to Kristol's cynicism not his Jewishness.

This first point about "they've" and "them" goes to no point Wieseltier made concerning Jew baiting, and in fact it is irrelevant to that point. The second point is strained and implausible. If Sullivan was excitedly on about Kristol's cynicism, having twisted Kristol's essential point to be the exact opposite of what it was, he should have simply have said "cynical" and not "non-Christian."

On Sullivan’s elaboration of what he meant to say, “non-Christian” is otiose. Sullivan was talking about Kristol specifically, was irrationally venting against Kristol and was riding rhetorically and giddily high with Obama as brothers in faith. There is ample textual warrant for Wieseltier's charge against Sullivan in this particular instance; and that particular charge in this particular instance need not be conflated with a general charge of anti-Semitism.

It is easy enough for Sullivan, after the fact, after he has been justifiably called out, backtrackingly to rationalize his slur as poor, sloppy word choice, feign innocence and expanding-the-issue protest that he is no anti-Semite. And it is right for Wieseltier to make “piercingly clear” that Sullivan is not one. But, there is nothing he needs to apologize for. His specific charge is supportably on the mark, as is, by the way, the phrase “Obama boy”, which is an apt a description of Sullivan’s over the top devotion to Obama as any.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More on Sullivan on Torture


basman “Nits aside, what you find “pompous” and a “cliché”—in a phrase, “body against soul”—I find radical—not necessarily original, but radical, to be sure.”

I don’t think it’s radical at all, basman. Had you read as many papers on and some books on the uses of force (torture is an extreme use of force) as I have you would how standard an argument it has been for the last quarter century. Many of this arguments originate in the work of Levinas and of Bakhtin (the Russian philosopher). I am not claiming btw that Sullivan got his argument from them (his writing doesn’t show any direct philosophical influence); he probably got it from some other source.

Still, I am surprised that you should accept an argument as radical that is religious in nature. (Both Levinas and Bakhtin are religious thinkers---the first is Jewish the other Russian Orthodox---and they both belong to the dialogic tradition as does Martin Buber.)

“Because it goes to the root of the issue and the starting point for any thinking about torture, too easily paid lip service to, or written off with a shrug as in “I am against it as policy because the information gathered from forced dialogues is notoriously untrustworthy.””

Yeap, that’s me I am against torture because the information is untrustworthy. (The forced dialogue comment is not something many other writers have used.)

In any case, Sullivan’s argument equating torture to totalitarianism is unsupported and unsupportable.

You say that:

“Sullivan nowhere simplistically suggests—as you imply in your “rhetorical question”-- that torture leads populations to embrace totalitarian regimes. Nor does he say torture today Nazi Germany—or any other poison—tomorrow.”

But that is the subtitle of his text: “Saving the United States from a totalitarian future” and it’s implied throughout his article:

He make assumptions and claims completely de-historicized about the conduct of the US war against Japan and Germany which was meant to lead to democracy:

The fact that these countries became democratic has many causes but the allied war effort was not one of them; not unless you consider dropping atomic weapons and bombing campaigns that destroyed whole cities a way of creating democracy.

This is what happened and this isn’t something Sullivan could acknowledge. I, on the other hand, will say that yes the ferocious assault of Japan and Germany left these countries unable and unwilling to fight back. In Germany’s case the fear of Soviet attacks left them eager to accept whatever terms the Western allies imposed on them including democracy.

There is no neat correlation between establishing democratic regimes and the use of force. (The US in its infancy did a lot of fighting against Indians, (lots of torture there) British, Canadians (our attack on Canada in the war of 1812 was pretty savage). It also enslaved large numbers of people yet it’s democratic character wasn’t stunted by these experiences.

Now, is torture worse than the destruction of cities and the killing of hundreds of thousand of people?

Will Sullivan support a sustained bombing campaign against say Iran or Saudi Arabia if it would lead to democracy (I ask myself half seriously)

“Krauthammer and Dershowitz wrestle too with the profound horrors and dilemmas of torture and in roughly the same way, albeit coming to different conclusions—though not necessarily, as I suggested, but probably….”

They have, and though I disagree with their conclusions I do take their arguments a lot more seriously.

Sullivan on the other seems fixated on this issue, it seems to me, because it gives him something to rant about and attack the “Jewish” neocons. It also allows him to keep posting pictured of near naked bodies of torture victims. There is something pornographic about his obsession with torture.

To quote, Dylan Thomas his position is to “love thy neighbor, and covet his ass.”


We’re dancing around Sullivan’s essay. Let’s get at its substance. The in a following post I’ll make a few brief comments about your penultimate post.

Sullivan begins by asking why torture—which I am confining to water boarding— is wrong and notes the then urgency of the issue and Krauthammer’s essay arguing for it. In contextualizing that urgency he notes Bush Administration policy and pervasive foreign examples of it under American aegis. He further notes, as I mentioned, that those against torture assume rather than explain why, as he sees it, it “is always a moral evil.” His position is that torture is contrary to basic American principles and a huge obstacle to America winning the war against Islamism.

He sets—and this is radical, while not necessarily original—a legitimate opposition between torture and freedom. And he does so provocatively and interestingly. Torture is the complete trammeling of the free self and its free will that are at the foundation of liberal democracy. Torture is the complete subjection of the self by intolerable pain. It is a grain of sand in which to see a pure, singular example of the totalitarian—the sheer, pain caused subjection and domination of one by powers over him, the very nullification of agency, autonomy and the human. Ramified, it is the pervasiveness of these inflictions as a means of state domination of its citizens. Western freedom is, “in part”, the sunlight emerging from the long shadow of torture cast over its history.

And so, the basis of the argument is set: “Any polity that endorses torture has incorporated into its own DNA a totalitarian mutation.” If the point of the U.S. Constitution is preserving individual liberty, torture is its antithesis. Therefore, the argument goes, allowing torture means a failure in the American political experiment in the freedoms flowing from inalienable rights, protected by the rule of law. Sullivan argues the founders were particularly alive to these ideas noting a historian’s account of Washington:

"Always some dark spirits wished to visit the same cruelties on the British and Hessians that had been inflicted on American captives. But Washington's example carried growing weight, more so than his written orders and prohibitions. He often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and that the rights of humanity for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies. ... Even in the most urgent moments of the war, these men were concerned about ethical questions in the Revolution."

Krauthammer in his essay called Washington’s concerns dispensable “pieties”. His argument, by way of Sullivan, is that torture is an unequivocal moral evil but morally compelled by the enemy America faces. And Sullivan locates in Krauthammer the argument the notion that this enemy is “entitled to no humane treatment.” Therefore, for Sullivan, in Krauthammer pragmatic necessity coexists with moral necessity.

At the level of morality, Sullivan argues otherwise. To torture is to nullify humanity; it is an unwitting exoneration. To retain humanity is to retain moral accountability. And to torture, to become a torturer, is to betray the most fundamental values and principles.

At the level of practicality, Krauthammer argues for torture in the case of the “ticking time bomb”. Krauthammer’s next move is to say if we can do it one instance, we can do it others. The manifestation of that extension is its legalization. For the sake of the argument, Sullivan grants Krauthammer’s conditions precedent and remote example but rejects the corollary: “It is possible to concede that, in an extremely rare circumstance, torture may be used without conceding that it should be legalized.”

Sullivan’s first argument for that rejection is the analogy of civil disobedience. By it laws are broken but respected. The disobedient are prepared for the consequences of their action. In the highly remote instance of the ticking bomb, the executive will decide to break the law for a greater good and be prepared for the consequences. Michael Walzer said, as Sullivan paraphrases, “…if we are to have dirty hands, it is essential that we show them to be dirty.” For Krauthammer, nothing urgent is lost in legalizing what must be done. For Sullivan, legalization is a white wash that sanctions a descent into unfreedom.

His second argument is the slippery slope, the inclination for torture’s use to spread and to grow out of itself: “Torture follows itself down new born streets, fleeing its own shadow”. Abu Ghraib manifested that spreading and it did America incalculable damage.

The third argument is the illegitimacy of deriving a general rule from such an attenuated, remote example as the ticking time bomb.

Krauthammer also argue for torture in the case of high level, “slow fuse” detainees like KSM. Understanding that torture generally yields highly unreliable information—your argument—Krauthammer doesn’t concede it never does. And if it does, it should be an option.

The first argument against this “slow fuse” argument is that is exemplifies making a general rule out of an extreme exception.

The second argument is that if the inclination to spread is true of the time bomb situation, that inclination is “blown wide open” by its optionality in other cases.

The third argument is that the sheer unreliability of the tortured’s information compromises intelligence generally due to: the near impossibility in any practical context of distinguishing good from bad information; and due to compromising the trust of those otherwise willing to cooperate. Trust will lessen if torture and humiliation leads to a perception of moral equivalence in the Muslim mind.

The fourth argument is cost benefit: the costs of an Abu Ghraib, for example, or the use torture generally, outweigh decidedly the smatterings of good information that might be gained from torture’s use.

A more general and concluding argument against Krauthammer by Sullivan also marries the moral to the pragmatic: if America maintains its rectitude—including by not torturing, Petraeus just said incisively in answer to the question of torture, “America should lives its values.”—then that stands to redound to its benefit in the war against Islamism.


Having revisited Sullivan's essay closely, I'll say this about your second last post--granting you that you have read more than me on the subject and that I have never read Levinas or Bakhtin:

1. The essay is radical not because of, or lack of, originality but because it starts, and carefully deals, with the very roots, the very bases, of the issue.

2. The argument is nowhere near to being religious. I am an atheist but also have a conception of the soul, the very seat of our humanness.

3. Sullivan folds one your one stated ground for rejecting torture--bad information--into the sweep of his comprehensive essay that deals with the moral and the practical.

4. Subtitle aside--and I don't even know if it's his--this essay is no argument for the lockstep from torture to totalitarianism. It is an argument for torture as a pure and singular microcosm of the totalitarian and it is an argument for America's loss of its "soul" by the institutionalizing of torture and finally it is a an argument about the danger of torture's use to spread and ramify through the body politic as a rotten apple.

5. I agree with you that he is too rhapsodic about American goodness leading to the emergence of democracies in Japan and Germany--and it is telling that he doesn’t mention the atomic bombing or the firebombing of Dresden-- and that he is too rhapsodic about America the good in winning the war against Islamism. But his underlying point is valid for all the rhapsody and historical omissions.

6. So the essay is marred by that rhapsodizing but it doesn't fail because of that. The rhapsody does not turn the whole thing into a rant. And al least in this essay, there is no obsession with "Jewish neocons" betrayed. In fact he calls Krauthammer his friend and a most highly respected conservative intellectual.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sullivan Against Wieseltier

1. Wieseltier:

2. Sullivan:

3. Wieseltier:

4. Sullivan:


One commenter designated this as an example of LW's intellect (in reference to AS):
"he is merely explaining belief in terms of temperament, and mood, and identity, all of which have no bearing upon the substance of any discussion. Compose yourself, man, and think."

The idea that Sullivan's writings amount to no more than opinions and beliefs is in itself a dishonest assessment. Most of AS's ideas are well-reasoned. That he is over the top from time to time does not nullify his perspicuity the rest of the time.

LW knows this, but cannot cop to it because of personal animosity and because he disagrees with AS on the subject of Israel. What kind of "intellectual" tries to prove his point with such false statements?


Rziegler, you say:

...The idea that Sullivan's writings amount to no more than opinions and beliefs is in itself a dishonest assessment. Most of AS's ideas are well-reasoned. That he is over the top from time to time does not nullify his perspicuity the rest of the time. LW knows this, but cannot cop to it because of personal animosity and because he disagrees with AS on the subject of Israel. What kind of "intellectual" tries to prove his point with such false statements?

…. The idea that Sullivan's writings amount to no more than opinions and beliefs is in itself a dishonest assessment....

Please show me where in his pieces Wiesletier has argued this. Where, too, does he say that what he takes issue with in Sullivan—the kinds of statements and writings he cites that he takes such exception to—“nullifies”—your verb—everything else Sullivan has written.

What evidence do you have that personal animosity motivated Wiesletier to write these pieces?
I think you misconceive Wieseltier’s argument against Sullivan—which has to do with his deep problems with the kind of writings he has pointed to, as I noted-- and then castigate Wieseltier on the basis of that very misconception as well as ascribing disingenuous and intellectually dishonest motives to him that you cannot possibly substantiate.


basman, just look at the of LW's first paragraph. It is a pathetic attempt to reduce AS's writing to irrelevance:

"why should his blog be read as anything more than a psychological document, as a record of his shifts and his seasons?"

Why indeed? AS has a spectacular ability to lay out the pros and cons, to promote dialectical discourse. LW spends his time finding fault with some of AS's excesses and errors, but steadfastly refuses to engage the larger body of AS's good works, in particular his books and topical pieces that appear in periodicals like the Atlantic and the Times of London.

Want more?

In his earlier piece, LW complains that AS presents "feelings as ideas" (once again an ad hominem attempt to trivalize Sullivan's work). This after defending Krauthammer's positions because they are based on a "deep and sometimes frantic concern for Israeli security". Well. Emotions play a part in formulating in everyone's viewpoints. LW seems to think that emotions any accompanying reasoned arguments and therefore he refuses to engage the point at hand.


It appears to me that LW is in a corner - he believes his position on Israel to be under siege, so he looks to counterattack. He focuses on Andrew Sullivan. Why? There are many other writers he could criticize. Perhaps he believes that AS is more vulnerable to criticism because Sullivan IS more volatile. Unfortunately LW personalizes and trivalizes his criticism (for example, by calling Sullivan "an athlete of regret"). It is small wonder that LW has labored for years within the TNR cocoon reaching a small audience. (Just to be clear, I've been a huge, if qualified, fan of TNR since the 70's. OMG!)

Meanwhile, The Daily Dish is read by millions. Could it be because Sullivan is both honest about his feelings and convincing with his facts? Maybe Sullivan has learned something that Wieseltier has not.


Rziegler, thanks for responding. But Wieseltier’s first paragraph doesn’t support your proposition that he has in his post tried to nullify everything Sullivan has written. Sullivan has written books, essays, done journalism, serious academic work including a Harvard doctorate on Oakeshott. Sullivan himself makes a sharp distinction between his blogging and his other writing in trying to rebut Wieseltier on his (Sullivan’s) blog.

Sullivan presents his blogging as emotional, in the moment writing and tries to excuse what Wieseltier complains about by recourse to his temperament , genes and the immediate nature of blogging. You may find those rationales convincing in explaining away the excrement of his worst outbursts and obsessions—and I include his sickening obsession with Sarah Palin, for whom I have no brief—which excrement Sullivan actually cops to by trying to rationalize it. But all of this is miles away from the idea you attempted to advance about a wholesale impugning of everything Sullivan wrote.

In that explaining away, Sullivan gives some foundation for Wieseltier’s admittedly provocative (maybe rhetorical) question about seeing Sullivan’s blog as the psychological documenting of his moods, shifts and larger changes. But that provocative question goes to a fair criticism of Sullivan’s incarnation over the last decade as a public intellectual. He is remarkable for his wild swings of enthusiasms and detestations—Ron Paul, Israel, or immediate post 9/11 are three examples that come immediately to mind. That wild inconstancy is sufficient to impugn any sense of his intellectual steadiness and to constitute him as a person who cannot control putting his considerable intellectual and analytical gifts to the service of his raging passions at any particular time

(Typically, I always remember when in his exchanges with Sam Harris, which were interesting for a while, finally Sullivan in the face of arguments he could not surmount and positions he could no longer defend became insulting and petty with Harris.)

Your argument that Wieseltier is to be faulted for not recognizing the good work Sullivan has done makes further evident your misreading. If I were to complain about Trilling’s fiction, if I were to complain about it in the most condemnatory terms, if his literary criticism was not my concern in that condemnation, should I be criticized for not being concerned with what does not concern me. That’s what your argument here amounts to.

To repeat: Wieseltier is concerned with specific things Sullivan has wildly written are akin to being anti Semitic and which he diagnoses further to be of a piece with weaknesses Sullivan suffers in needing to give mental vent to whatever strikes him. Sullivan’s rebuttal based, as noted, on temperament, his identity-Irish Catholic-- and the nature of blogging leads Wieseltier to reject those excuses for intellectual failure and to offer the prosaic advice of in effect “take a deep breath and think.”

I don’t know how you can complain about Wieseltier saying that Sullivan presents ideas as feelings when that is a central defence Sullivan himself makes in rationalizing his outbursts and what marks his intellectual failures.

Following on that, you distort, in good faith I’m sure, Wieseltier’s comments on Krauthammer. He notes what animates Krauthammer’s concerns, not to defend his arguments—“Moreover, Krauthammer argues for his views; the premises of his analysis are coldly clear, and may be engaged analytically, and when necessary refuted”—some of which he agrees with and some of which he disagrees with—but rather to defend his motives: “Whatever the merits of his views, I do not see that his motives are despicable.” This he does because Sullivan does not deal substantively with Krauthammer’s arguments. Rather he trades in Krauthammer’s motives and in doing so repudiates what it means to be an intellectual:

“...But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing–that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran–is something else. Something much darker...”

And this repudiation—this ascription of evil motives: “something darker”—is compounded by Sullivan’s assertion of a Jewish essentialism for which Wieseltier properly and devastatingly takes him apart.

The issue here is not the role emotions play in argument—and you are not to think you have any greater insight into the relation between emotion and argument than Wiesletier. The issue is discreditably allowing passion free range over the intellect and to assert those passions under the pretence of ideas intellect Sullivan has the intellectual gifts to present his unconstrained passions as ostensible argument.

Ironically, you end your post mimicking Sullivan. You say Wieseltier is in a corner because he wants to defend Israel and thinks his position under siege, This is an assertion of motives, not contention with ideas. You are in no position to know whether Wieseltier feels in a corner.

You are in no position to know whether Wieseltier feels under siege in his defence of Israel. And you are in no position to know why he has in his first piece focused on Sullivan. It all in the end really doesn’t matter, does it?

What matters is the case that he’s made. You misread it, try vainly to present an analysis based on that misreading and wind up, ironically, replicating in your post a very ground of Wieseltier’s criticism .


Basman, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I will respond as best I can. You wrote:

“Sullivan presents his blogging as emotional, in the moment writing and tries to excuse what Wieseltier complains about by recourse to his temperament, genes and the immediate nature of blogging.”

Sorry, this is grossly oversimplified. Wieseltier makes unsubstantiated and grotesque claims about Sullivan in his original essay, for example, in one paragraph: “…Sullivan … belongs to the herd…who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control Washington,” and “…the explanation that Sullivan adopts for almost everything that he does not like about America’s foreign policy, and America’s wars, and America’s role in the world–that it is all the result of the clandestine and cunningly organized power of a single and small ethnic group–has a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.”

I read Sullivan’s blog regularly. These sweeping and extreme statements are profound distortions of Sullivan’s views, and they are not substantiated. In fact, from my own reading, I see no evidence for these conclusions in anything Sullivan has written. Basman, show us!
Wieseltier goes on by saying, “His [Sullivan’s] assumption, in his outburst about ‘the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing,’ that every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought is an anti-Semitic assumption.” This is a smear, a direct accusation of anti-Semitism, but it is an empty argument, a cipher. Sullivan does not dislike the Goldfarb-Krauthammer positions because they are singularly Jewish. (He never says for example that “only a Jew could take such a position” or "this is a typically Jewish position".) He dislikes them because he thinks they are wrong-headed, no matter who thinks them.

Wieseltier, with similar bouts of broken logic, spends the rest of his essay attempting to demonstrate Sullivan’s “venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews.” The technique apparently is to present one or more of Sullivan’s writings, argue against it, and then pivot to one of several conclusions about Sulivan’s temperament, referring to anti-Semitism, bitterness, indecency, “moronic” insensitivity, and, naturally, derangement. Not an especially intellectual approach - rather clumsy, or to use Wieseltier’s language, “repugnant”.

You wrote: “Sullivan does not deal substantively with Krauthammer’s arguments.” Maybe not in that particular blog post, but anyone who reads the Dish regularly knows that Sullivan carefully backs up his opinions about Krauthammer’s ideas, Israel, and other topics with thoughtful reasoning. You may disagree with his choices of evidence and his conclusions, but the reasoning is there.

You wrote: “That wild inconstancy is sufficient to impugn any sense of his intellectual steadiness…” This is another sweeping statement that can’t be backed up. Does occasional inconstancy nullify all his carefully reasoned positions? Exactly how often is Sullivan inconstant? Some say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. In my view, Sullivan is very predictable. In most areas, his positions have not changed. A flip-flop here and there does not make him wildly inconstant.

On the other foot, is Wieseltier constant? In this case, I would say that Wieseltier has written a wild and incoherent diatribe filled with unsubstantiated claims, in his words, an “outburst”. Not the emotional steadiness I would expect from an “intellectual.”

You wrote: “He [Sullivan] trades in Krauthammer’s motives and in doing so repudiates what it means to be an intellectual.” This echoes Wieseltier’s statement, “Sullivan is hunting for motives”. But motives and ideas are not mutually exclusive; in fact one is a subset of the other. (I’ll leave that to you to puzzle through.) In any event, it is up to Wieseltier to justify his claim, and then explain exactly how that might discredit Sullivan’s positions. Wieseltier does not make the case.
You wrote: “

The issue is discreditably allowing passion free range over the intellect and to assert those passions under the pretence of ideas.” Once again, a sweeping statement, one that you do not, cannot substantiate. This is one reader who likes reason AND passion. Sullivan is a crusader, a visionary, and he is influential because he marries the two. An idea may have merit if it is soundly conceived and argued. But leaders rely on passion in the delivery in order to magnify the impact of their ideas.

I will sign off this thread, but certainly will read any response you volunteer.

My respects.


rziegler thanks too for yours and I'll leave it there with you. No doubt we'll have something else to quarrel about in due course. Save to say that I would have thought Wieseltier gave pretty good examples of what he was talking about.

Exchange on Sullivan


I have a hard time taking this pompous pronouncement seriously:

"Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself."

What Sullivan wrote here is a cliche. Any two bit moral psychologist could have come up with this kind of formulation.

I would say that torture sets up an involuntary exchange system: cessation of pain for information. It's a kind of forced dialogue.

I am against it as policy because the information gathered from forced dialogues is notoriously untrustworthy.

I would also say that the use of torture to enforce totalitarian ideals is also ineffective.

Totalitarianism works best when people are convinced or seduced into believing a certain ideology. Does Sullivan really think that the Germans were tortured into believing in Nazism? Where the Soviets tortured into believing in Communism? Or the Jihadists into believing in Islamicism?

A combination of factors make totalitarianism possible: yes torture can be part of the mix but it can't be the most important part. Most importantly totalitarians use ideals that people already believe and make them absolute. The inquisition in Spain and elsewhere was made possible by peoples already believing in Christianity, the same with Stalinism in Russia: it was presented as the ideal way of implementing communism. Nazism relied on a belief in "biological racial purity," which it didn't invent, and so on.


What’s a "moral psychologist"—let alone a “two bit” one?

Do you mean moral philosopher?

Nits aside, what you find “pompous” and a “cliché”—in a phrase, “body against soul”—I find radical—not necessarily original, but radical, to be sure.

Because it goes to the root of the issue and the starting point for any thinking about torture, too easily paid lip service to, or written off with a shrug as in “I am against it as policy because the information gathered from forced dialogues is notoriously untrustworthy.”

This I read in contrast to what you call “pompous” and a “cliche” as a thin utilitarianism. Do I understand you to agree with torture—which I am using as a another word for “water boarding”, not to mince words—if it were shown to be effective? Even Sullivan, in spite of himself, concedes its efficacy: “It is possible to concede that, in an extremely rare circumstance, torture may be used without conceding that it should be legalized.”

That is where the case against torture—water boarding starts to fall apart, including misconceiving the example of the ticking time bomb, as Krauthammer makes clear in his Weekly Standard essay with the case of Israel.

But I digress. The point about what you quote is, as I say, opposite to being a pompous cliché, that is a necessary starting point, a fundamental unacknowledged premise, for a wide ranging, informed humanist case against water boarding, the recent likes of which, I think, you would have a hard time pointing to.

Your last two paragraphs are, respectfully, markedly off target:

1.Sullivan nowhere simplistically suggests—as you imply in your “rhetorical question”-- that torture leads populations to embrace totalitarian regimes. Nor does he say torture today Nazi Germany—or any other poison—tomorrow.

2. And it’s remote to start discussing what weight torture should get in assessing the factors that might thought to be the conditions of totalitarianism. You are doing this to demonstrate how Sullivan’s misunderstanding of the nexus between torture and totalitarianism infects his essay. But that is to misread his essay. In his essay he rightly isolates the totalitarian impulse in torture—that impulse is necessarily a cornerstone of all state punishment, profoundly implicit in the notion of “cruel and unusual punishment”—and explains why—in what you find a “pompous cliché”—torture weighs against American creedal values and principles in arguing against it.

Krauthammer and Dershowitz wrestle too with the profound horrors and dilemmas of torture and in roughly the same way, albeit coming to different conclusions—though not necessarily, as I suggested, but probably. That's why Sullivan and Krauthammer mark such important, accessible, humanistic, liberal intellectual book marks to this debate.

Sullivan's essay proceeds markedly astride the central criticisms you offered of it.

Krauthammer on Torture

Opposite intellectual book end to Sullivan

The Truth about Torture

It's time to be honest about doing terrible things.

Charles Krauthammer

December 5, 2005,

DURING THE LAST FEW WEEKS in Washington the pieties about torture have lain so thick in the air that it has been impossible to have a reasoned discussion. The McCain amendment that would ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of any prisoner by any agent of the United States sailed through the Senate by a vote of 90-9. The Washington establishment remains stunned that nine such retrograde, morally inert persons--let alone senators--could be found in this noble capital.

Now, John McCain has great moral authority on this issue, having heroically borne torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese. McCain has made fine arguments in defense of his position. And McCain is acting out of the deep and honorable conviction that what he is proposing is not only right but is in the best interest of the United States. His position deserves respect. But that does not mean, as seems to be the assumption in Washington today, that a critical analysis of his "no torture, ever" policy is beyond the pale.

Let's begin with a few analytic distinctions. For the purpose of torture and prisoner maltreatment, there are three kinds of war prisoners:

First, there is the ordinary soldier caught on the field of battle. There is no question that he is entitled to humane treatment. Indeed, we have no right to disturb a hair on his head. His detention has but a single purpose: to keep him hors de combat. The proof of that proposition is that if there were a better way to keep him off the battlefield that did not require his detention, we would let him go. Indeed, during one year of the Civil War, the two sides did try an alternative. They mutually "paroled" captured enemy soldiers, i.e., released them to return home on the pledge that they would not take up arms again. (The experiment failed for a foreseeable reason: cheating. Grant found that some paroled Confederates had reenlisted.)

Because the only purpose of detention in these circumstances is to prevent the prisoner from becoming a combatant again, he is entitled to all the protections and dignity of an ordinary domestic prisoner--indeed, more privileges, because, unlike the domestic prisoner, he has committed no crime. He merely had the misfortune to enlist on the other side of a legitimate war. He is therefore entitled to many of the privileges enjoyed by an ordinary citizen--the right to send correspondence, to engage in athletic activity and intellectual pursuits, to receive allowances from relatives--except, of course, for the freedom to leave the prison.

Second, there is the captured terrorist. A terrorist is by profession, indeed by definition, an unlawful combatant: He lives outside the laws of war because he does not wear a uniform, he hides among civilians, and he deliberately targets innocents. He is entitled to no protections whatsoever. People seem to think that the postwar Geneva Conventions were written only to protect detainees. In fact, their deeper purpose was to provide a deterrent to the kind of barbaric treatment of civilians that had become so horribly apparent during the first half of the 20th century, and in particular, during the Second World War. The idea was to deter the abuse of civilians by promising combatants who treated noncombatants well that they themselves would be treated according to a code of dignity if captured--and, crucially, that they would be denied the protections of that code if they broke the laws of war and abused civilians themselves.

Breaking the laws of war and abusing civilians are what, to understate the matter vastly, terrorists do for a living. They are entitled, therefore, to nothing. Anyone who blows up a car bomb in a market deserves to spend the rest of his life roasting on a spit over an open fire. But we don't do that because we do not descend to the level of our enemy. We don't do that because, unlike him, we are civilized. Even though terrorists are entitled to no humane treatment, we give it to them because it is in our nature as a moral and humane people. And when on rare occasions we fail to do that, as has occurred in several of the fronts of the war on terror, we are duly disgraced.

The norm, however, is how the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo have been treated. We give them three meals a day, superior medical care, and provision to pray five times a day. Our scrupulousness extends even to providing them with their own Korans, which is the only reason alleged abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo ever became an issue. That we should have provided those who kill innocents in the name of Islam with precisely the document that inspires their barbarism is a sign of the absurd lengths to which we often go in extending undeserved humanity to terrorist prisoners.

Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don't so easily apply. Let's take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.

Yes, you say, but that's an extreme and very hypothetical case. Well, not as hypothetical as you think. Sure, the (nuclear) scale is hypothetical, but in the age of the car-and suicide-bomber, terrorists are often captured who have just set a car bomb to go off or sent a suicide bomber out to a coffee shop, and you only have minutes to find out where the attack is to take place. This "hypothetical" is common enough that the Israelis have a term for precisely that situation: the ticking time bomb problem.

And even if the example I gave were entirely hypothetical, the conclusion--yes, in this case even torture is permissible--is telling because it establishes the principle: Torture is not always impermissible. However rare the cases, there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, torture not only would be permissible but would be required (to acquire life-saving information). And once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price. In the case of torture, that means that the argument is not whether torture is ever permissible, but when--i.e., under what obviously stringent circumstances: how big, how imminent, how preventable the ticking time bomb.

That is why the McCain amendment, which by mandating "torture never" refuses even to recognize the legitimacy of any moral calculus, cannot be right. There must be exceptions. The real argument should be over what constitutes a legitimate exception.

Let's Take An Example that is far from hypothetical. You capture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan. He not only has already killed innocents, he is deeply involved in the planning for the present and future killing of innocents. He not only was the architect of the 9/11 attack that killed nearly three thousand people in one day, most of them dying a terrible, agonizing, indeed tortured death. But as the top al Qaeda planner and logistical expert he also knows a lot about terror attacks to come. He knows plans, identities, contacts, materials, cell locations, safe houses, cased targets, etc. What do you do with him?

We have recently learned that since 9/11 the United States has maintained a series of "black sites" around the world, secret detention centers where presumably high-level terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed have been imprisoned. The world is scandalized. Black sites? Secret detention? Jimmy Carter calls this "a profound and radical change in the . . . moral values of our country." The Council of Europe demands an investigation, calling the claims "extremely worrying." Its human rights commissioner declares "such practices" to constitute "a serious human rights violation, and further proof of the crisis of values" that has engulfed the war on terror. The gnashing of teeth and rending of garments has been considerable.

I myself have not gnashed a single tooth. My garments remain entirely unrent. Indeed, I feel reassured. It would be a gross dereliction of duty for any government not to keep Khalid Sheikh Mohammed isolated, disoriented, alone, despairing, cold and sleepless, in some godforsaken hidden location in order to find out what he knew about plans for future mass murder. What are we supposed to do? Give him a nice cell in a warm Manhattan prison, complete with Miranda rights, a mellifluent lawyer, and his own website? Are not those the kinds of courtesies we extended to the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, then congratulated ourselves on how we "brought to justice" those responsible for an attack that barely failed to kill tens of thousands of Americans, only to discover a decade later that we had accomplished nothing--indeed, that some of the disclosures at the trial had helped Osama bin Laden avoid U.S. surveillance?

Have we learned nothing from 9/11? Are we prepared to go back with complete amnesia to the domestic-crime model of dealing with terrorists, which allowed us to sleepwalk through the nineties while al Qaeda incubated and grew and metastasized unmolested until on 9/11 it finished what the first World Trade Center bombers had begun?

Let's assume (and hope) that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been kept in one of these black sites, say, a cell somewhere in Romania, held entirely incommunicado and subjected to the kind of "coercive interrogation" that I described above. McCain has been going around praising the Israelis as the model of how to deal with terrorism and prevent terrorist attacks. He does so because in 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed all torture in the course of interrogation. But in reality, the Israeli case is far more complicated. And the complications reflect precisely the dilemmas regarding all coercive interrogation, the weighing of the lesser of two evils: the undeniable inhumanity of torture versus the abdication of the duty to protect the victims of a potentially preventable mass murder.

In a summary of Israel's policies, Glenn Frankel of the Washington Post noted that the 1999 Supreme Court ruling struck down secret guidelines established 12 years earlier that allowed interrogators to use the kind of physical and psychological pressure I described in imagining how KSM might be treated in America's "black sites."

"But after the second Palestinian uprising broke out a year later, and especially after a devastating series of suicide bombings of passenger buses, cafes and other civilian targets," writes Frankel, citing human rights lawyers and detainees, "Israel's internal security service, known as the Shin Bet or the Shabak, returned to physical coercion as a standard practice." Not only do the techniques used "command widespread support from the Israeli public," but "Israeli prime ministers and justice ministers with a variety of political views," including the most conciliatory and liberal, have defended these techniques "as a last resort in preventing terrorist attacks."

Which makes McCain's position on torture incoherent. If this kind of coercive interrogation were imposed on any inmate in the American prison system, it would immediately be declared cruel and unusual, and outlawed. How can he oppose these practices, which the Israelis use, and yet hold up Israel as a model for dealing with terrorists? Or does he countenance this kind of interrogation in extreme circumstances--in which case, what is left of his categorical opposition to inhuman treatment of any kind?

But let us push further into even more unpleasant territory, the territory that lies beyond mere coercive interrogation and beyond McCain's self-contradictions. How far are we willing to go?

This "going beyond" need not be cinematic and ghoulish. (Jay Leno once suggested "duct tape" for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. See photo.) Consider, for example, injection with sodium pentathol. (Colloquially known as "truth serum," it is nothing of the sort. It is a barbiturate whose purpose is to sedate. Its effects are much like that of alcohol: disinhibiting the higher brain centers to make someone more likely to disclose information or thoughts that might otherwise be guarded.) Forcible sedation is a clear violation of bodily integrity. In a civilian context it would be considered assault. It is certainly impermissible under any prohibition of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Let's posit that during the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, perhaps early on, we got intelligence about an imminent al Qaeda attack. And we had a very good reason to believe he knew about it. And if we knew what he knew, we could stop it. If we thought we could glean a critical piece of information by use of sodium pentathol, would we be permitted to do so?

Less hypothetically, there is waterboarding, a terrifying and deeply shocking torture technique in which the prisoner has his face exposed to water in a way that gives the feeling of drowning. According to CIA sources cited by ABC News, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "was able to last between two and 2 1/2 minutes before begging to confess." Should we regret having done that? Should we abolish by law that practice, so that it could never be used on the next Khalid Sheikh Mohammed having thus gotten his confession?

And what if he possessed information with less imminent implications? Say we had information about a cell that he had helped found or direct, and that cell was planning some major attack and we needed information about the identity and location of its members. A rational moral calculus might not permit measures as extreme as the nuke-in-Manhattan scenario, but would surely permit measures beyond mere psychological pressure.

Such a determination would not be made with an untroubled conscience. It would be troubled because there is no denying the monstrous evil that is any form of torture. And there is no denying how corrupting it can be to the individuals and society that practice it. But elected leaders, responsible above all for the protection of their citizens, have the obligation to tolerate their own sleepless nights by doing what is necessary--and only what is necessary, nothing more--to get information that could prevent mass murder.

GIVEN THE GRAVITY OF THE DECISION, if we indeed cross the Rubicon--as we must--we need rules. The problem with the McCain amendment is that once you have gone public with a blanket ban on all forms of coercion, it is going to be very difficult to publicly carve out exceptions. The Bush administration is to be faulted for having attempted such a codification with the kind of secrecy, lack of coherence, and lack of strict enforcement that led us to the McCain reaction.

What to do at this late date? Begin, as McCain does, by banning all forms of coercion or inhuman treatment by anyone serving in the military--an absolute ban on torture by all military personnel everywhere. We do not want a private somewhere making these fine distinctions about ticking and slow-fuse time bombs. We don't even want colonels or generals making them. It would be best for the morale, discipline, and honor of the Armed Forces for the United States to maintain an absolute prohibition, both to simplify their task in making decisions and to offer them whatever reciprocal treatment they might receive from those who capture them--although I have no illusion that any anti-torture provision will soften the heart of a single jihadist holding a knife to the throat of a captured American soldier. We would impose this restriction on ourselves for our own reasons of military discipline and military honor.

Outside the military, however, I would propose, contra McCain, a ban against all forms of torture, coercive interrogation, and inhuman treatment, except in two contingencies: (1) the ticking time bomb and (2) the slower-fuse high-level terrorist (such as KSM). Each contingency would have its own set of rules. In the case of the ticking time bomb, the rules would be relatively simple: Nothing rationally related to getting accurate information would be ruled out. The case of the high-value suspect with slow-fuse information is more complicated. The principle would be that the level of inhumanity of the measures used (moral honesty is essential here--we would be using measures that are by definition inhumane) would be proportional to the need and value of the information. Interrogators would be constrained to use the least inhumane treatment necessary relative to the magnitude and imminence of the evil being prevented and the importance of the knowledge being obtained.

These exceptions to the no-torture rule would not be granted to just any nonmilitary interrogators, or anyone with CIA credentials. They would be reserved for highly specialized agents who are experts and experienced in interrogation, and who are known not to abuse it for the satisfaction of a kind of sick sadomasochism Lynndie England and her cohorts indulged in at Abu Ghraib. Nor would they be acting on their own. They would be required to obtain written permission for such interrogations from the highest political authorities in the country (cabinet level) or from a quasi-judicial body modeled on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (which permits what would ordinarily be illegal searches and seizures in the war on terror). Or, if the bomb was truly ticking and there was no time, the interrogators would be allowed to act on their own, but would require post facto authorization within, say, 24 hours of their interrogation, so that they knew that whatever they did would be subject to review by others and be justified only under the most stringent terms.

One of the purposes of these justifications would be to establish that whatever extreme measures are used are for reasons of nothing but information. Historically, the torture of prisoners has been done for a variety of reasons apart from information, most prominently reasons of justice or revenge. We do not do that. We should not do that. Ever. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, murderer of 2,973 innocents, is surely deserving of the most extreme suffering day and night for the rest of his life. But it is neither our role nor our right to be the agents of that suffering. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. His, not ours. Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment.

If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed knew nothing, or if we had reached the point where his knowledge had been exhausted, I'd be perfectly prepared to throw him into a nice, comfortable Manhattan cell and give him a trial to determine what would be fit and just punishment. But aslong as he had useful information, things would be different.

Very different. And it simply will not do to take refuge in the claim that all of the above discussion is superfluous because torture never works anyway. Would that this were true. Unfortunately, on its face, this is nonsense. Is one to believe that in the entire history of human warfare, no combatant has ever received useful information by the use of pressure, torture, or any other kind of inhuman treatment? It may indeed be true that torture is not a reliable tool. But that is very different from saying that it is never useful.

The monstrous thing about torture is that sometimes it does work. In 1994, 19-year-old Israeli corporal Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car used in the kidnapping and tortured him in order to find where Waxman was being held. Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister and peacemaker, admitted that they tortured him in a way that went even beyond the '87 guidelines for "coercive interrogation" later struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court as too harsh. The driver talked. His information was accurate. The Israelis found Waxman. "If we'd been so careful to follow the ['87] Landau Commission [which allowed coercive interrogation]," explained Rabin, "we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."

In the Waxman case, I would have done precisely what Rabin did. (The fact that Waxman's Palestinian captors killed him during the Israeli rescue raid makes the case doubly tragic, but changes nothing of the moral calculus.) Faced with a similar choice, an American president would have a similar obligation. To do otherwise--to give up the chance to find your soldier lest you sully yourself by authorizing torture of the person who possesses potentially lifesaving information--is a deeply immoral betrayal of a soldier and countryman. Not as cosmically immoral as permitting a city of one's countrymen to perish, as in the Ethics 101 case. But it remains, nonetheless, a case of moral abdication--of a kind rather parallel to that of the principled pacifist. There is much to admire in those who refuse on principle ever to take up arms under any conditions. But that does not make pure pacifism, like no-torture absolutism, any less a form of moral foolishness, tinged with moral vanity. Not reprehensible, only deeply reproachable and supremely impracticable. People who hold such beliefs are deserving of a certain respect. But they are not to be put in positions of authority. One should be grateful for the saintly among us. And one should be vigilant that they not get to make the decisions upon which the lives of others depend.

WHICH BRINGS US to the greatest irony of all in the torture debate. I have just made what will be characterized as the pro-torture case contra McCain by proposing two major exceptions carved out of any no-torture rule: the ticking time bomb and the slow-fuse high-value terrorist. McCain supposedly is being hailed for defending all that is good and right and just in America by standing foursquare against any inhuman treatment. Or is he?

According to Newsweek, in the ticking time bomb case McCain says that the president should disobey the very law that McCain seeks to pass--under the justification that "you do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it." But if torturing the ticking time bomb suspect is "what you have to do," then why has McCain been going around arguing that such things must never be done?

As for exception number two, the high-level terrorist with slow-fuse information, Stuart Taylor, the superb legal correspondent for National Journal, argues that with appropriate legal interpretation, the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" standard, "though vague, is said by experts to codify . . . the commonsense principle that the toughness of interrogation techniques should be calibrated to the importance and urgency of the information likely to be obtained." That would permit "some very aggressive techniques . . . on that small percentage of detainees who seem especially likely to have potentially life-saving information." Or as Evan Thomas and Michael Hirsh put it in the Newsweek report on McCain and torture, the McCain standard would "presumably allow for a sliding scale" of torture or torture-lite or other coercive techniques, thus permitting "for a very small percentage--those High Value Targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--some pretty rough treatment."

But if that is the case, then McCain embraces the same exceptions I do, but prefers to pretend he does not. If that is the case, then his much-touted and endlessly repeated absolutism on inhumane treatment is merely for show. If that is the case, then the moral preening and the phony arguments can stop now, and we can all agree that in this real world of astonishingly murderous enemies, in two very circumscribed circumstances, we must all be prepared to torture. Having established that, we can then begin to work together to codify rules of interrogation for the two very unpleasant but very real cases in which we are morally permitted--indeed morally compelled--to do terrible things.

Sullivan on Torture

Older essay worth reprising

The Abolition Of Torture

Saving the United States from a totalitarian future.

Andrew Sullivan

December 19, 2005

Why is torture wrong? It may seem like an obvious question, or even one beneath discussion. But it is now inescapably before us, with the introduction of the McCain Amendment banning all "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees by American soldiers and CIA operatives anywhere in the world. The amendment lies in legislative limbo. It passed the Senate in October by a vote of 90 to nine, but President Bush has vowed to veto any such blanket ban on torture or abuse; Vice President Cheney has prevailed upon enough senators and congressmen to prevent the amendment--and the defense appropriations bill to which it is attached--from moving out of conference; and my friend Charles Krauthammer, one of the most respected conservative intellectuals in Washington (and a New Republic contributing editor) has written a widely praised cover essay for The Weekly Standard endorsing the legalization of full-fledged torture by the United States under strictly curtailed conditions. We stand on the brink of an enormously important choice--one that is critical, morally as well as strategically, to get right.

This debate takes place after three years in which the Bush administration has defined "
torture" in the narrowest terms and has permitted coercive, physical abuse of enemy combatants if "military necessity" demands it. It comes also after several internal Pentagon reports found widespread and severe abuse of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere that has led to at least two dozen deaths during interrogation.

Journalistic accounts and reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross paint an even darker picture of secret
torture sites in Eastern Europe and innocent detainees being murdered. Behind all this, the grim images of Abu Ghraib--the worst of which have yet to be released--linger in the public consciousness.

In this inevitably emotional debate, perhaps the greatest failing of those of us who have been arguing against all
torture and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees is that we have assumed the reasons why torture is always a moral evil, rather than explicating them. But, when you fully ponder them, I think it becomes clearer why, contrary to Krauthammer's argument, torture, in any form and under any circumstances, is both antithetical to the most basic principles for which the United States stands and a profound impediment to winning a wider war that we cannot afford to lose.

Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person's will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. As an American commander wrote in an August 2003 e-mail about his instructions to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, "The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken."

What does it mean to "break" an individual? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of
torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term "break" is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken--of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South.

What you see in the relationship between torturer and tortured is the absolute darkness of totalitarianism. You see one individual granted the most complete power he can ever hold over another. Not just confinement of his mobility--the
abolition of his very agency. Torture uses a person's body to remove from his own control his conscience, his thoughts, his faith, his selfhood. The CIA's definition of "waterboarding"--recently leaked to ABC News--describes that process in plain English: "The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt." The ABC report then noted, "According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the waterboarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said Al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two and a half minutes before begging to confess."

Before the Bush administration, two documented cases of the U.S. Armed Forces using "waterboarding" resulted in courts-martial for the soldiers implicated. In Donald Rumsfeld's post-September 11 Pentagon, the technique is approved and, we recently learned, has been used on at least eleven detainees, possibly many more. What you see here is the deployment of a very basic and inescapable human reflex--the desire not to drown and suffocate--in order to destroy a person's autonomy. Even the most hardened fanatic can only endure two and a half minutes. After that, he is indeed "broken."

The entire structure of Western freedom grew in part out of the searing experience of statesanctioned
torture. The use of torture in Europe's religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is still etched in our communal consciousness, as it should be. Then, governments deployed torture not only to uncover perceived threats to their faith-based autocracies, but also to "save" the victim's soul. Torturers understood that religious conversion was a difficult thing, because it necessitated a shift in the deepest recesses of the human soul. The only way to reach those depths was to deploy physical terror in the hopes of completely destroying the heretic's autonomy. They would, in other words, destroy a human being's soul in order to save it. That is what burning at the stake was--an indescribably agonizing act of torture that could be ended at a moment's notice if the victim recanted. In a state where theological doctrine always trumped individual liberty, this was a natural tactic.

Indeed, the very concept of Western liberty sprung in part from an understanding that, if the state has the power to reach that deep into a person's soul and can do that much damage to a human being's person, then the state has extinguished all oxygen necessary for freedom to survive. That is why, in George Orwell's totalitarian nightmare, the final ordeal is, of course,
torture. Any polity that endorses torture has incorporated into its own DNA a totalitarian mutation. If the point of the U.S. Constitution is the preservation of liberty, the formal incorporation into U.S. law of the state's right to torture--by legally codifying physical coercion, abuse, and even, in Krauthammer's case, full-fledged torture of detainees by the CIA--would effectively end the American experiment of a political society based on inalienable human freedom protected not by the good graces of the executive, but by the rule of law.

The founders understood this argument. Its preeminent proponent was George Washington himself. As historian David Hackett Fischer memorably recounts in his 2004 book, Washington's Crossing: "Always some dark spirits wished to visit the same cruelties on the British and Hessians that had been inflicted on American captives. But Washington's example carried growing weight, more so than his written orders and prohibitions. He often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and that the rights of humanity for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies. ... Even in the most urgent moments of the war, these men were concerned about ethical questions in the Revolution."

Krauthammer has described Washington's convictions concerning
torture as "pieties" that can be dispensed with today. He doesn't argue that torture is not evil. Indeed, he denounces it in unequivocal moral terms: "[T]orture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment." But he maintains that the nature of the Islamofascist enemy after September 11 radically altered our interrogative options and that we are now not only permitted, but actually "morally compelled," to torture.

This is a radical and daring idea: that we must extinguish human freedom in a few cases in order to maintain it for everyone else. It goes beyond even the Bush administration's own formal position, which states that the United States will not endorse
torture but merely "coercive interrogation techniques." (Such techniques, in the administration's elaborate definition, are those that employ physical force short of threatening immediate death or major organ failure.) And it is based on a premise that deserves further examination: that our enemies actually deserve torture; that some human beings are so depraved that, in Krauthammer's words, they "are entitled to no humane treatment."

Let me state for the record that I am second to none in decrying, loathing, and desiring to defeat those who wish to replace freedom with religious tyranny of the most brutal kind--and who have murdered countless innocent civilians in cold blood. Their acts are monstrous and barbaric. But I differ from Krauthammer by believing that monsters remain human beings. In fact, to reduce them to a subhuman level is to exonerate them of their acts of terrorism and mass murder--just as animals are not deemed morally responsible for killing. Insisting on the humanity of terrorists is, in fact, critical to maintaining their profound responsibility for the evil they commit.

And, if they are human, then they must necessarily not be treated in an inhuman fashion. You cannot lower the moral baseline of a terrorist to the subhuman without betraying a fundamental value. That is why the Geneva Conventions have a very basic ban on "cruel treatment and
torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment"--even when dealing with illegal combatants like terrorists. That is why the Declaration of Independence did not restrict its endorsement of freedom merely to those lucky enough to find themselves on U.S. soil--but extended it to all human beings, wherever they are in the world, simply because they are human.

Nevertheless, it is important to address Krauthammer's practical points. He is asking us to steel ourselves and accept that, whether we like it or not,
torture and abuse may be essential in a war where our very survival may be at stake. He presents two scenarios in which he believes torture is permissible. The first is the "ticking bomb" scenario, a hypothetical rarity in which the following conditions apply: a) a terrorist cell has planted a nuclear weapon or something nearly as devastating in a major city; b) we have captured someone in this cell; c) we know for a fact that he knows where the bomb is. In practice, of course, the likelihood of such a scenario is extraordinarily remote. Uncovering a terrorist plot is hard enough; capturing a conspirator involved in that plot is even harder; and realizing in advance that the person knows the whereabouts of the bomb is nearly impossible. (Remember, in the war on terrorism, we have already detained--and even killed--many innocents. Pentagon reports have acknowledged that up to 90 percent of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, many of whom were abused and tortured, were not guilty of anything.) But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that all of Krauthammer's conditions apply. Do we have a right to torture our hypothetical detainee?

According to Krauthammer, of course we do. No responsible public official put in that position would refuse to sanction
torture if he believed it could save thousands of lives. And, if it's necessary, Krauthammer argues, it should be made legal. If you have conceded that torture may be justified in one case, Krauthammer believes, you have conceded that it may be justified in many more. In his words, "Once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price."

But this is too easy and too glib a formulation. It is possible to concede that, in an extremely rare circumstance,
torture may be used without conceding that it should be legalized. One imperfect but instructive analogy is civil disobedience. In that case, laws are indeed broken, but that does not establish that the laws should be broken. In fact, civil disobedience implies precisely that laws should not be broken, and protesters who engage in it present themselves promptly for imprisonment and legal sanction on exactly those grounds. They do so for demonstrative reasons. They are not saying that laws don't matter. They are saying that laws do matter, that they should be enforced, but that their conscience in this instance demands that they disobey them.

In extremis, a rough parallel can be drawn for a president faced with the kind of horrendous decision on which Krauthammer rests his entire case. What should a president do? The answer is simple: He may have to break the law. In the Krauthammer scenario, a president might well decide that, if the survival of the nation is at stake, he must make an exception. At the same time, he must subject himself--and so must those assigned to conduct the
torture--to the consequences of an illegal act. Those guilty of torturing another human being must be punished--or pardoned ex-post-facto. If the torture is revealed to be useless, if the tortured man is shown to have been innocent or ignorant of the information he was tortured to reveal, then those responsible must face the full brunt of the law for, in Krauthammer's words, such a "terrible and monstrous thing." In Michael Walzer's formulation, if we are to have dirty hands, it is essential that we show them to be dirty.

What Krauthammer is proposing, however, is not this compromise, which allows us to retain our soul as a free republic while protecting us from catastrophe in an extremely rare case. He is proposing something very different: that our "dirty hands" be wiped legally clean before and after the fact. That is a Rubicon we should not cross, because it marks the boundary between a free country and an unfree one.

Krauthammer, moreover, misses a key lesson learned these past few years. What the hundreds of abuse and
torture incidents have shown is that, once you permit torture for someone somewhere, it has a habit of spreading. Remember that torture was originally sanctioned in administration memos only for use against illegal combatants in rare cases. Within months of that decision, abuse and torture had become endemic throughout Iraq, a theater of war in which, even Bush officials agree, the Geneva Conventions apply. The extremely coercive interrogation tactics used at GuantAnamo Bay "migrated" to Abu Ghraib. In fact, General Geoffrey Miller was sent to Abu Ghraib specifically to replicate GuantAnamo's techniques. According to former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who had original responsibility for the prison, Miller ordered her to treat all detainees "like dogs."

When Captain Ian Fishback, a West Point graduate and member of the 82nd Airborne, witnessed routine beatings and abuse of detainees at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, often for sport, he tried to stop it. It took him a year and a half to get any response from the military command, and he had to go to Senator John McCain to make his case.

In short, what was originally supposed to be safe, sanctioned, and rare became endemic, disorganized, and brutal. The lesson is that it is impossible to quarantine
torture in a hermetic box; it will inevitably contaminate the military as a whole. Once you have declared that some enemies are subhuman, you have told every soldier that every potential detainee he comes across might be exactly that kind of prisoner--and that anything can therefore be done to him. That is what the disgrace at Abu Ghraib proved. And Abu Ghraib produced a tiny fraction of the number of abuse, torture, and murder cases that have been subsequently revealed. The only way to control torture is to ban it outright. Everywhere. Even then, in wartime, some "bad apples" will always commit abuse. But at least we will have done all we can to constrain it.

Krauthammer's second case for
torture is equally unpersuasive. For "slow-fuse" detainees--high-level prisoners like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with potentially, if not immediately, useful intelligence--Krauthammer again takes the most extreme case and uses it to establish a general rule. He concedes that torture, according to almost every careful student and expert, yields highly unreliable information. Anyone can see that. If you are screaming for relief after a few seconds of waterboarding, you're likely to tell your captors anything, true or untrue, to stop the agony and terror. But Krauthammer then argues that, unless you can prove that torture never works, it should always be retained as an option. "It may indeed be true that torture is not a reliable tool," he argues. "But that is very different from saying that it is never useful." And if it cannot be deemed always useless, it must be permitted--even when an imminent threat is not in the picture.

The problem here is an obvious one. You have made the extreme exception the basis for a new rule. You have said that, if you cannot absolutely rule out
torture as effective in every single case, it should be ruled in as an option for many. Moreover, if allowing torture even in the "ticking bomb" scenario makes the migration of torture throughout the military likely, this loophole blows the doors wide open. And how do we tell good intelligence from bad intelligence in such torture-infested interrogation? The short answer is: We cannot. By allowing torture for "slow-fuse" detainees, you sacrifice a vital principle for intelligence that is uniformly corrupted at best and useless at worst.

In fact, the use of
torture and coercive interrogation by U.S. forces in this war may have contributed to a profound worsening of our actionable intelligence. The key to intelligence in Iraq and, indeed, in Muslim enclaves in the West, is gaining the support and trust of those who give terrorists cover but who are not terrorists themselves. We need human intelligence from Muslims and Arabs prepared to spy on and inform on their neighbors and friends and even family and tribe members. The only way they will do that is if they perceive the gains of America's intervention as greater than the costs, if they see clearly that cooperating with the West will lead to a better life and a freer world rather than more of the same.

What our practical endorsement of
torture has done is to remove that clear boundary between the Islamists and the West and make the two equivalent in the Muslim mind. Saddam Hussein used Abu Ghraib to torture innocents; so did the Americans. Yes, what Saddam did was exponentially worse. But, in doing what we did, we blurred the critical, bright line between the Arab past and what we are proposing as the Arab future. We gave Al Qaeda an enormous propaganda coup, as we have done with GuantAnamo and Bagram, the "Salt Pit" torture chambers in Afghanistan, and the secret torture sites in Eastern Europe. In World War II, American soldiers were often tortured by the Japanese when captured. But FDR refused to reciprocate. Why? Because he knew that the goal of the war was not just Japan's defeat but Japan's transformation into a democracy. He knew that, if the beacon of democracy--the United States of America--had succumbed to the hallmark of totalitarianism, then the chance for democratization would be deeply compromised in the wake of victory.

No one should ever underestimate the profound impact that the conduct of American troops in World War II had on the citizens of the eventually defeated Axis powers. Germans saw the difference between being liberated by the Anglo-Americans and being liberated by the Red Army. If you saw an American or British uniform, you were safe. If you didn't, the terror would continue in different ways. Ask any German or Japanese of the generation that built democracy in those countries, and they will remind you of American values--not trumpeted by presidents in front of handpicked audiences, but demonstrated by the conduct of the U.S. military during occupation. I grew up in Great Britain, a country with similar memories. In the dark days of the cold war, I was taught that America, for all its faults, was still America. And that America did not, and constitutively could not,
torture anyone.

If American conduct was important in Japan and Germany, how much more important is it in Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire point of the war on terrorism, according to the president, is to advance freedom and democracy in the Arab world. In Iraq, we had a chance not just to tell but to show the Iraqi people how a democracy acts. And, tragically, in one critical respect, we failed. That failure undoubtedly contributed to the increased legitimacy of the insurgency and illegitimacy of the occupation, and it made collaboration between informed Sunnis and U.S. forces far less likely.

What minuscule intelligence we might have plausibly gained from torturing and abusing detainees is vastly outweighed by the intelligence we have forfeited by alienating many otherwise sympathetic Iraqis and Afghans, by deepening the divide between the democracies, and by sullying the West's reputation in the Middle East. Ask yourself: Why does Al Qaeda tell its detainees to claim
torture regardless of what happens to them in U.S. custody? Because Al Qaeda knows that one of America's greatest weapons in this war is its reputation as a repository of freedom and decency. Our policy of permissible torture has handed Al Qaeda this weapon--to use against us. It is not just a moral tragedy. It is a pragmatic disaster. Why compound these crimes and errors by subsequently legalizing them, as Krauthammer (explicitly) and the president (implicitly) are proposing?

Will a ban on all "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" render interrogations useless? By no means. There are many techniques for gaining intelligence from detainees other than using their bodies against their souls. You can start with the 17 that appear in the Army Field Manual, tested by decades of armed conflict only to be discarded by this administration with barely the blink of an eye. Isolation, psychological disorientation, intense questioning, and any number of other creative techniques are possible. Some of the most productive may well be those in which interrogators are so versed in Islamic theology and Islamist subcultures that they win the confidence of prisoners and pry information out of them--something the United States, with its dearth of Arabic speakers, is unfortunately ill-equipped to do.

Enemy combatants need not be accorded every privilege granted legitimate prisoners of war; but they must be treated as human beings. This means that, in addition to physical
torture, wanton abuse of their religious faith is out of bounds. No human freedom is meaningful without religious freedom. The fact that Koran abuse has been documented at GuantAnamo; that one prisoner at Abu Ghraib was forced to eat pork and drink liquor; that fake menstrual blood was used to disorient a strict Muslim prisoner at GuantAnamo--these make winning the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims far harder. Such tactics have resulted in hunger strikes at Guantanamo--perhaps the ultimate sign that the coercive and abusive attempts to gain the cooperation of detainees has completely failed to achieve the desired results.

The war on terrorism is, after all, a religious war in many senses. It is a war to defend the separation of church and state as critical to the existence of freedom, including religious freedom. It is a war to persuade the silent majority of Muslims that the West offers a better way--more decency, freedom, and humanity than the autocracies they live under and the totalitarian theocracies waiting in the wings. By endorsing
torture--on anyone, anywhere, for any reason--we help obliterate the very values we are trying to promote. You can see this contradiction in Krauthammer's own words: We are "morally compelled" to commit "a terrible and monstrous thing." We are obliged to destroy the village in order to save it. We have to extinguish the most basic principle that defines America in order to save America.

No, we don't. In order to retain fundamental American values, we have to banish from the United States the totalitarian impulse that is integral to every act of
torture. We have to ensure that the virus of tyranny is never given an opening to infect the Constitution and replicate into something that corrupts as deeply as it wounds. We should mark the words of Ian Fishback, one of the heroes of this war: "Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is 'America.'" If we legalize torture, even under constrained conditions, we will have given up a large part of the idea that is America. We will have lost the war before we have given ourselves the chance to win it.