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I Don't Lose Sleep Over Terrorists Being Walled

I am quoting a New Republic colleague from this morning's editorial meeting. But frankly I, too, do not lose sleep over some terrorists being thrown against a supple wall a couple of times. And I find myself mystified why putting a terrorist in a box with a caterpillar is thought of at all as illegal and unforgivable. 

The fact that what was done to these monstrous men came after September 11 is, at least to me, a mitigating circumstance. Those very few detainees who died in American custody were actually deliberately killed and the perpetrators brought to justice. Moreover, no one was disfigured or maimed or killed in the sort of routine process made infamous by the revolutionary movements embraced by many of the Bush administration's critics, including those who still shill for the Castro regime or make shabby rationales for Islamic fanaticism.

Still, this is about America. No comparison with ideological tyrannies will do. None. Not even the painstaking legalism of the four Justice Department memoranda really addresses the passions of the debate. Their precision is, in fact, an offense to those who want to wash our hands of anything approaching the dirty and foul. I would like, then, to read the normative guidelines--what is permissible and impermissible--in this excruciating debate that will emerge from Eric Holder's legal bureaucracy. Or from Harold Koh as the State Department legal adviser when he is confirmed. I am certain that they will not come up with a formula that will disarm the Central Intelligence Agency or military intelligence, and much of what they permit will be dubbed torture. By the way, that's reassuring to me.

I was actually much comforted by Rahm Emanuel's treatment on Sunday television of the controversy around Bush administration figures who are now being fingered as targets of holier-than-thou Democratic senators like Carl Levin. Rahm is wary of this administration getting into a wrangle with the last over terror and counter-terrorism. There are no winners in such a conflict. So I was mystified that the president, after having at first put aside legal recriminations for people in the last government, raised the prospect of pursuing them.

Of course, there are many Democrats who want to keep George Bush alive indefinitely, and one of the ways of doing this is by flaying members of his administration. I believe that politically this will be a disaster for Obama who has got to be seen as trying to capture the future, not sustaining the past. Obama has instinctively resisted heaping blame and shame, where blame and shame are actually due, on the Bushies for letting the economy collapse. This is politically shrewd. There are no real incentives for harking on how we treated terrorists in custody, somewhat disgraceful as in some cases we may have been.  And I wouldn't want a poll done on what Americans think about this matter.

As it happens, the insistence of European and other anti-Americans on threatening former U.S. officials with indictments will solidify our people behind them. Here, from Wednesday's Washington Post is a mind-boggling story by Craig Whitlock about the European prosecutors and their intentions to pursue "Bush Officials Over Prisoner Treatment."

He quotes one official at the United Nations (where matters of justice and injustice are dealt with so punctiliously) thrilled at his expectation that "torture is an international crime irrespective of the place where it is committed...This will be something that will be haunting C.I.A. officials, or Justice Department officials, or the vice president, for the rest of their lives." Whitlock also quotes another U.N. official who investigates torture crimes--an Austrian lawyer, no less--arguing that Washington ought to pay financial compensation to "torture victims," including Al Qaeda leaders who were water-boarded. How about that, Senator Levin?