Debating Enhanced Interrogation

This afternoon I’m flying to Phoenix for two debates (the first at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and the second at the Phoenix School of Law) on the legality and effectiveness of enhanced interrogation. My position is simple: enhanced interrogation as designed and practiced by the Bush administration is legal under the laws of armed conflict and effective in the right circumstances (indeed, it is on occasion indispensable), but its implementation should be subject to legal process (see, for example, Alan Dershowitz’s proposed “torture warrants.”)

I’ll be debating first a former Army interrogator and second a law professor, but both debates will suffer from the problem inherent to public discussions of the war: where you stand is often based on what you know. The Barack Obama who ran for president is not the same Barack Obama who stepped up drone strikes, maintained Gitmo and the rendition program, and even issued kill orders for American citizens. Why? The simplest answer (and an answer I have good reason to believe is accurate) is that candidate Obama did not have access to the same information as President Obama, and once President Obama accessed that information (and — just as critically — assumed actual responsibility for our security), then the wisdom of heretofore condemned policies came into sharper focus.

If we are to maintain public support throughout this very long war, we need to consider faster and broader declassification of battlefield information. In short, we shouldn’t leave the story of our war to Wikileaks. While there is a blindingly obvious need to maintain secrecy in a vast array of circumstances, it is also true that “secret” classification is the default method of internal reporting downrange — rendering an enormous amount of helpful information off-limits to the public for a very long time. One of the most frustrating aspects of my return from Iraq post-Surge has been my inability to refute arguments that I know to be positively, absolutely factually incorrect, but my proof is locked behind closed doors. “Trust me” simply does not work as an answer.

Finally, Corner readers, if you’re in Tucson and Phoenix, feel free to stop by and watch. You may even want to toss in a question or two (but, please, no questions about Mormons, cults, and Christianity; I still haven’t made it all the way through yesterday’s comment thread).

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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