The Corner

Ramesh

I fear you misread me. I didn’t say anything about letters to families. The idea that I did seems to particularly bother you, but I didn’t say it. I said columns, which obviously people like Ignatius write all the time and shouldn’t be particularly burdensome for him.

Let me restate my basic point in a less indignant way. Ignatius was admirably honest to admit openly that the McCain amendment might cost lives. It will be even more admirably honest if after an attack that could have been prevented with more intelligence from detainees, he reiterates his point that the innocent lives lost were worth the upside of banning all coercive techniques. (Torture, of course, already is banned, so the real action in McCain is ending coercive interrogations and giving terrorists de facto Geneva rights–and I assume that this is what Ignatius is referring to when he says “torture” and “torture ban”).

Of course, a scenario where it will be clear that an attack could have been prevented with more intelligence from detainees is unlikely. It will probably be murkier than that.

Also, my indignant hope expressed in that post was a little tongue in cheek, since I think that it is very likely that the same people cheerleading McCain would, after a hypothetical attack where interrogation policy would have made a difference: 1) Scream that we should have done a better job collecting intelligence and “connecting the dots,” even though they have hampered our ability to do both. This is what happened after 9/11, when the same people who degraded the CIA and FBI over 30 years expressed shocked outrage at the limited capabilities of both; 2) Deny, even if the evidence indicates otherwise, that the McCain amendment had anything to do with it.

Yes, I oppose torture. Yes, that might cost us lives. But that doesn’t mean I can’t lament that people are drawing the line in place short of torture in a way that I consider unreasonable and that increases our risk.

I oppose a police state too. That creates an openness in our society that terrorists can exploit, and therefore can cost American lives. But that doesn’t mean I can’t excoriate “the wall,” which in the pursuit of phantom civil-liberties protections created an unreasonable constraint on our ability to protect ourselves.

I think “the wall” is a good analogy here. An FBI agent frustrated by “the wall” said prior to 9/11, “Somebody, someone will die–and wall or not–the public will not understand why we were not more effective.”

Ignatius is saying something similar–people might die because of this. I submit if that happens very few people are going to think that what happened in Washington this week on the McCain amendment was a good idea, or even understand it.

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