The Corner

Democrats & Torture

As I discussed in this article a few days ago, Judge Mukasey seems to be the only person required by Democrats to call for a categorical ban on all coercive interrogation tactics.

This morning, both Rich and the Wall Street Journal recount these comments by Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2004:

I think there are probably very few people in this room or in America who would say that torture should never ever be used, particularly if thousands of lives are at stake. . . . It is easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used, but when you are in the foxhole it is a very different deal. And I respect, I think we all respect the fact that the President is in the foxhole every day.

In the Weekly Standard last week, Gabe Schoenfeld noted the nuanced position of Barack Obama and the flip-floppery of Hillary Clinton:

At the September 26 Democratic presidential debate, the moderator, Tim Russert, posed a stark question: “Imagine the following scenario. We get lucky. We get the number-three guy in al Qaeda. We know there’s a big bomb going off in America in three days, and we know this guy knows where it is. Don’t we have the right and responsibility to beat it out of him?”

Barack Obama responded by declaring that we cannot “have the president of the United States state as a matter of policy that there is a loophole or an exception where we would sanction torture.” He then shifted, in the very same breath, to state that “there are going to be all sorts of hypotheticals, an emergency situation, and I will make that judgment at that time.” In other words, he wants to preserve the very same loophole for which he lambastes President Bush.

Hillary Clinton was seemingly much clearer, declaring that “As a matter of policy, [torture] cannot be American policy, period.” But buried in this unequivocal statement is a lawyerly loophole, evident in the carefully constructed caveat, “as a matter of policy.” But still, she came close to standing her own previous position on its head. On an earlier occasion, she had held that there were “very rare” instances in which severe interrogation methods might be necessary and that the United States needs “lawful authority” to engage in them in cases involving an “imminent threat to millions of Americans.”

As I reported, Hillary is not the only Clinton who has argued in favor of rough stuff in dire emergencies.  President Clinton has said a president should be able to order waterboarding and beyond (italics mine):

Look, if the president needed an option, there’s all sorts of things they can do. Let’s take the best case, OK. You picked up someone you know is the No. 2 aide to Osama bin Laden. And you know they have an operation planned for the United States or some European capital in the next three days. And you know this guy knows it. Right, that’s the clearest example. And you think you can only get it out of this guy by shooting him full of some drugs or water-boarding him or otherwise working him over. If they really believed that that scenario is likely to occur, let them come forward with an alternate proposal. We have a system of laws here where nobody should be above the law, and you don’t need blanket advance approval for blanket torture. They can draw a statute much more narrowly, which would permit the president to make a finding in a case like I just outlined, and then that finding could be submitted even if after the fact to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Clinton, Clinton, Obama and Schumer.  They have all, to a greater or lesser degree, embraced the concept of coercive interrogation (some, even torture — which is unquestionably illegal), and they have all underscored the excruciating complexity of this issue.  Somehow, they are fit to lead the Democratic Party but the suitability of Mukasey — who has taken a more measured stance — to be attorney general is in doubt?  What am I missing here?

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