Step Into The Light

As to my can-there-be-a-decent-right question about torture, Philip Zelikow, the counselor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, provides a compelling answer in the affirmative. His post at Shadow Government is a delicate and thoughtful rejection of the Bush administration’s architecture of torture. He makes short work of the legal reasoning on display from the Office of Legal Counsel’s Steven Bradbury, and states that he pushed back against it:

At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that:  The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives.

To ask an impolite question of Zelikow: why didn’t he resign? I know, resignations of senior officials are few and far between. But it seems like this is one of those issues — the entrenchment of a widespread system of abusive interrogations that are, you acknowledge, most likely illegal — that merits walking out the door. I’m not trying to play the critic, especially after he’s offered such a candid, honest view of his tenure. Nor do I mean to imply that resignation is an easy thing — particularly if you’re trying to change the system from within.  But it still seems like a question worth asking.

Then there’s this bottom-line assessment:

Opponents should not overstate their side either. Had a serious analysis been conducted beforehand (it apparently was not), my rough guess is that it might have found that physical coercion can break people faster, with some tradeoff in degraded and less reliable results.

If so, that doesn’t sound like the opponents would be overstating their case at all. Acquiring unreliable intelligence isn’t valuable, no matter how rapidly it’s collected. And it’s certainly not valuable if the cost is breaking the law and violating someone’s basic rights, even a terrorist’s.

Crossposted to The Streak. Also check out Gene Healy’s euphemism-free take. I don’t know if Gene, a libertarian, would include himself on the "right," so I didn’t want to group him in with Zelikow. 

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman