The Journal has an excellent editorial today (reg req). Here’s part of it:
But let’s say waterboarding were banned. The critics are still conveniently vague about just what interrogation techniques they would allow. The Post frowns on “other CIA pressure methods.” Well, what are they? Sleep deprivation? Exposure to hot and cold? Stress techniques such as kneeling for a long time? Or how about good cop-bad cop interrogation of the kind practiced in the average American police precinct? That can certainly be “degrading” and “cruel” if you interpret those words in the most expansive manner.
Part of the problem with interpreting those words is that they depend on the context. All things being equal, we can’t think of a worse human rights abuse than blowing someone to bits with a Hellfire missile. Yet no one objected when that happened to al Qaeda leader Hamza Rabia in Pakistan two weeks ago. If certain individuals can be ethically targeted for death in a war, then wouldn’t the same hold true for rough interrogation methods? A strange code of morality would allow the killing of Rabia but not his stressful questioning to prevent further murders he might plan against innocent civilians.
Some of the more sophisticated critics recognize this, as well as the possibility of “ticking bomb” scenarios. That includes Senator McCain, who has written in Newsweek that on occasion “an interrogator might well try extreme measures.” But he opposes writing any guidance into law or regulation — the way the Bush Administration has done — suggesting instead that the interrogator should go ahead and do what he thinks is needed and then depend on “authorities and the public” to “take [context] into account when judging his actions.”
In other words, Mr. McCain admits that what lies at the heart of his Amendment is moral hypocrisy: We’re supposed to ban rugged interrogation in general to make us feel better about ourselves, but only until such interrogation is required; then do whatever it takes. We prefer the Bush Administration’s candor in approving certain practices in certain cases — all the more so because, in the real world, bureaucratic and political imperatives will almost certainly put an end to all such methods if the McCain Amendment becomes law.