To read the some of the more liberal quarters of the Internet today — from the New York Times, to Andrew Sullivan’s blog, to The Nation, and beyond — you would think that the United States is now a virtual criminal enterprise, run by war criminals, harboring war criminals and committing war crimes as a matter of national policy. You would think American national honor has been stained forever. And you would know that the American story told by the Left, one dominated by stories of American crimes (real and imagined), will now include a new chapter — the torture era.
And that leftist story will be partisan, ideological nonsense.
That’s not to say that there isn’t real wrongdoing detailed in the Senate Democrats’ so-called “torture report.” For example, a detainee likely died from hypothermia after being chained to a wall without pants. There’s no legal justification or excuse for such an incident. Nor do some of the other activities described (such as forced rectal feeding) seem to meet any reasonable standard for proper forms of enhanced interrogation. But these worst of incidents were extraordinarily isolated. In a war where we’ve taken tens of thousands of detainees, the numbers implicated by the worst aspects of this report seem to be less than ten. To put this in some perspective, during World War II American and British forces indisputably treated German and Japanese prisoners of war far better than the Nazis and Imperial Japanese treated our own men, but the death rate for Axis prisoners in American custody far exceeded that of contemporary conflicts, and there were many, many reported instances of allied soldiers shooting prisoners. And those abuses largely went unpunished and — unlike here — were accomplished for no discernible intelligence purpose but rather as acts of reprisal or impulsive fury when faced with Nazi or Japanese atrocities.
And that brings us to the next bit of perspective. To read the Left, one would think that the CIA was staffed by pure sadists, who simply abused prisoners for no purpose. Again and again they parrot the line — as if it’s indisputable, gospel truth — that we never obtained any intelligence advantage from enhanced interrogation. Yet the committee’s minority report disputes this in detail, as does the CIA’s response, and as do three former directors of the CIA. The reason the Left clings to the notion that enhanced interrogation didn’t work is that’s the only way they can sell their hysterical response to the American public. Americans understand that in war we often have to test the limits of propriety to defeat the enemy and save American lives. This is especially true when fighting an enemy that utterly disregards the laws of war and builds key parts of its war-fighting strategy around the notion that we will always and forever treat them with kid gloves. They can read army field manuals on interrogation just as easily as you can — and then specifically train their men to counter the techniques.
If we reward terrorist enemies with the same kind of treatment that the laws of war reserve for uniformed members of foreign militaries, we will simply incentivize their continued violations and enable their terror plots without — and this is crucial — impressing or winning over key Middle East populations or even winning over world opinion. I cannot stress enough how much American forces have restrained themselves in this war. Friends of mine are dead because of this restraint. If you doubt the high costs of foolish restraint, read Dakota Meyer’s and Bing West’s outstanding and disturbing book, Into the Fire. Yet not only do I not see a single tear of regret flow from the face of the war’s leftist critics, I hear instead the howling, wailing lament that we were not more restrained, that we didn’t treat our murderous enemies with even more respect.