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Excerpt: "Yet Lincoln's code also said that 'military necessity does not admit of cruelty ... nor of torture.'"

(illustration: Matt Mahurin)
(illustration: Matt Mahurin)

No torture. No exceptions.

By Charles and Gregory Fried, The Washington Post

08 May 11


Torture apologists stain triumph over bin Laden.

he killing of Osama bin Laden after a fierce firefight in his Abbottabad compound is a great victory for our military and intelligence forces and for our civilian leadership. But the handwringing about whether it looked as though bin Laden was reaching for a gun or suicide belt, as if this were some who-is-the fastest-gun-in-the-West movie, and about whether we violated Pakistani sovereignty by going in after him is risible.

As the code of war that Abraham Lincoln promulgated in 1863 - the first anywhere - made clear: "military necessity admits of all direct destruction of life or limb of armed enemies ... it allows of the capturing of ... every enemy of importance to the hostile government." Yet Lincoln's code also said that "military necessity does not admit of cruelty ... nor of torture."

In this all civilized men and women agree: Torture is condemned by American law, international law and by the pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2005 it was condemned by Congress at the instance of, among others, Sen. John McCain. Now, the same apologists who applauded President George W. Bush's authorization of torture - and make no mistake, waterboarding is torture - are working to stain this great triumph. They argue that but for their barbaric treatment of detainees through 2003, we would never have found our man.

The claim is indecent most immediately because there is no way of knowing whether it is true, and any attempt to prove or disprove it must reveal intelligence that our security requires remain secret. But even if true, it does not make the point. However dangerous he may have been, Osama bin Laden was not the ticking bomb requiring immediate defusing, so familiar now from television dramas. And that's just the point about making exceptions to moral imperatives that should remain exceptionless - like Lincoln's absolute condemnation of torture, or the condemnation of sexual degradation as a weapon of war, or the judicial killing of an innocent person to keep the peace. These things must never be done. To put such moral boundaries on the same level as legal niceties about sovereignty or the need for a warrant reveals a profoundly flawed sense of proportion.

Those who defend the use of torture and who are using bin Laden's killing to prove their point prove just the opposite. However vile, bin Laden was not the armed-nuclear-bomb-hidden-in-downtown-L.A. scenario of Jack Bauer's "24." The point is that once you are willing to cross the line of absolutely wrong, you must answer impossible questions: How many people must be endangered; how certain must we be of the danger; how sure must we be that this is the person who can lead us to the bomb and that the torture will work on him? What if the terrorist who planted the bomb is immune to torture or beyond our reach, but his young child is not? May we torture the child if that will make the terrorist talk? And how certain must we be that that will work?

One Bush torture apologist, like the 13th chime of the clock, has famously argued that even the torture of the child would be allowed. But, of course, the lack of a stopping place in justifying this evil shows how readily the resort to deliberate brutality metastasizes so that it can be used to justify torture to save just one person, or even if there is a chance of saving one person, or even if it involves random cruelty to soften up the next person we interrogate, as in the case of Abu Ghraib. To paraphrase Justice Robert Jackson, such an argument either has no beginning or it has no end.

As Lincoln understood, the main damage torture inflicts is on the torturer. We all suffer pain and we all must die. But while we live we must strive to be worthy of the humanity that is supposed to be the goal of our battles. Lincoln's code proclaims: "Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God." Francis Lieber, who drafted the code at Lincoln's direction, elaborated: "The late proclamation of General Halleck, declaring himself ready for retaliation ... distinctly tells his officers and soldiers not to retaliate cruelly. ... Can we roast Indians, though they have roasted one of our own? Simple infliction of death is not considered cruelty."

The death of Osama bin Laden may ultimately prove to be a footnote to al-Qaeda's real moment of defeat. The same Muslim men and women bin Laden sought to recruit to jihad in the name of his Pol Pot-like caliphate are now revolting for a chance to lead decent lives in democratic nations governed by the same values that we proclaim guide us. Their goal is also our best hope for a lasting end to this war on terror. It defiles their sacrifice, as well as that of our own troops, if we who have long championed democracy embrace the brutal values of our enemies, even in the name of self-defense. We must deny bin Laden this posthumous victory.

Charles Fried, who teaches at Harvard Law School, and Gregory Fried, who is chairman of the philosophy department at Suffolk University, are the authors of "Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror." your social media marketing partner


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+23 # rm 2011-05-08 20:21
Fried writes, "The killing of Osama bin Laden after a fierce firefight in his Abbottabad compound is a great victory for our military and intelligence forces and for our civilian leadership."

It would help this otherwise good argument to start out by getting the facts straight. There was no fierce firefight and bin Laden was in bed and unarmed. He was murdered point blank and in cold blood. There was no resistance. This was not a great day for the US forces. The killing was done by shadowy SEALS, secret teams of hit men and terrorists. No one will talk about what they do because all of it is illegal. The fact that a nation maintains such secret teams of killers is just as bad as the secret torture sites it maintains all over the world.

There may be some honor (outmoded however) in the military profession. But there is no honor is torturers or secret assassins. They come from the inherent brutality of a fascist state. The tactics of assassins and torturers has driven the USG across the line into fascism.

But it is more important to recall Jane Mayer's work on the torture regimes. It has never been about getting information. That is TV and pablum for the MSM. Jane Mayer saw instantly that it is about behavior modification. The CIA is trying to turn its captives into zombies it can use to create more violence around the world.
+2 # George D 2011-05-09 07:19
I have to admit that when I read your comment, I was overcome with emotion and ready to respond to you that way. Let me try to keep those emotions in check and make a more reasoned response instead.

After 9/11, it became very clear that bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attack and every al Qaeda attack before and since. While I don't like the term "War on Terror" there should be no doubt that bin Laden was an enemy of America and deserved to die. PERIOD

As to whether it was done to your high moral standards or not, is of no concern to me or most other humans on the planet I suspect. Until you can say you rapelled out of a helicopter, in the middle of the night, behind "enemy lines" into COMPLETE UNKNOWN, and would be able to think in that moment of confrontation "gee; should we arrest him or shoot him now" stop talking. You reveal very unflattering things about your intellect, and reasoning skills.

The article focused on torture. We should ALL be able to agree with the message it put forth. It also mentioned that killing an enemy, WITHOUT TORTURE, is a reasonable thing to do in a war situation.

The question I have been having to wonder about is, why are we in Iraq and Afghanistan when the clear "state" enemies of America have always been Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?
+8 # Dave W. 2011-05-09 09:52
George D. A recent post on an RSN article stated that the FBI "DID NOT" have Bin Laden on its "ten most wanted" list for a simple reason: they had absolutely NO factual evidence that he was even involved in the 9/11 attacks. "High moral standards" DO NOT include some sort of morbid fascination/adu lation with the "highly honed killing skills" your post implies.The Navy Seals responsible for this apparent act of "heroism" are trained killing machines. They performed their duties well it would appear.Interrog ating Bin Laden may have provided a plethora of useful, and quite possibly,embarr assing information revealing our involvement in the Middle East. A bullet to the head closed that chapter very quickly, much to the relief I suspect of a number of U.S. politicians including,but not limited to,our former and current President.As to your last question, Saudi Arabia has been providing this country with vast amounts of oil(our life's blood)since 1944. Pakistan is a nuclear armed state.Exactly how many nuclear armed states (countries) can you name that have been invaded,if that is indeed what you're suggesting? I do NOT grieve for Bin Laden.But I am CONCERNED (perhaps unlike other humans on the planet you seem to feel you have been authorized to speak for)when "killing" was executed yet "capture" was a clear option. We're regressing George.If YOU'RE fine with that...I'm not.
0 # George V. Williams 2011-06-06 14:12
There has never been proof of bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attack on Americans. The accusation was a figment, apparently a necessary one, to the Cheney, et al, claim of his involvement; one that also included fixed 'intelligence' that proved a number of blatant falsehoods, long ago proved to be false, quite beyond a shadow of doubt.
-1 # George D 2011-05-09 07:32
I'd like to make one more point about bin Laden and his death.
This man may have been used as a "boogie man" by Bush and Cheney but he was also heralded as a super hero by his followers. He was a psychological demoralization factor for America as well.
Killing a general, especially "THE" general of your enemy is more than eliminating a "boogie-man". It is a huge, strategic coup in a war. Who would have led the Nazis when Hitler was killed?

People need to view bin Laden, not as a Timothy McVey figure but as a Hitler figure. It was his money, ideas, plans, and "vision" for his cause that drove al Qaeda. To think he deserved a "day in court" is rather idiotic I think.
Now, Sadaam; That was clearly a problematic assassination. Just as going after Ghadafi would be.
Comparisons linking Bush and Cheney to what Obama has been doing is very misguided and il thought out.
+5 # Dave W. 2011-05-09 10:15
George D, Bin Laden was a "psychological demoralization factor" for America because Fox News and most of the fawning main stream media made him so. His was the "visible face" of our, as it now turns out, needless forays into the Middle East. Suggest you read Project for a New American Century, initially proposed by University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss. Pay careful attention to detail and especially the men who have endorsed the professor's ideas over the last 10 to 20 years. Bush, Cheney and now Obama are responsible for hundreds of thousands of INNOCENT deaths across Iraq/Afghanista n/Pakistan. Bin Laden's tally, no less egregious, is significantly less. Why are comparisons between these men misguided? Do the lives of Middle Easterners have less VALUE than North Americans? A U.S. General a few years back stated "our God is bigger than yours" when referring to Islamic references to Allah. Does this, in your mind, give us license to kill but condemn the "enemy" for having the SAME mindset? Bush,Cheney and now Obama could fill many, many graveyards. Bin Laden far fewer. Viewed from the eyes of the victims and their loved ones, WHY are comparisons "misguided and ill thought out." If YOUR family had been "eliminated" would YOU be making this statement? Think it over.
+2 # George D 2011-05-09 23:42
Dave W.
I know there is nothing I can say to you or anyone that believes causing the death of another human is never justified. I have seen the many posts about conspiracy theories and "special, secret information" and I really do not wish to engage in those kinds of discussions. It would truly be a waste of both of our time.

So you choose not to believe that Bin Laden was THE driving force behind Al Qaeda and that he deserved to be hunted down and killed as much as Hitler did. That's your prerogative. I am of a different opinion.

Maybe it's because I am from a military family. Maybe it's because I believe we were attacked and the MANY news releases from OBL through the years were real.

Maybe I'm just gullible. I believe Obama was born here; I accepted that with the first piece of evidence (and before actually)

The point is, I see some of you in an equal light to Teabaggers right now. Your comments defy reason to me.

Sorry; I wish we were talking about the false hand wringing over deficit spending or why we should be out of Iraq and Afghanistan now, but we aren't.
+2 # Dave W. 2011-05-10 12:05
George D, Limited time prevents longer response. 1. I said NOTHING about "justification" in causing the death of another human being. 2. I DO believe there is information regarding the events of 9/11 the public is unaware of. 3.Bin Laden, taken alive, may have provided some of that info. 4. I have NO problem with his death. Repeat:NO PROBLEM! 5. I NEVER said Bin Laden was not "driving force" behind Al Qaeda. You said it for me. 6. I made analogy to the perspective of what constitutes a "terrorist." If YOU were Pakistani man who stepped out of his house for a moment and a United States Predator Drone struck your house and killed your ENTIRE family who would YOU perceive as the terrorist? 7. Bush and now Obama have killed, with their orders, hundreds of thousands of INNOCENT people in Afghanistan/Pak istan/Iraq. 8.If FOREIGN forces "rapelled" under cover of night into THIS country and arbitrarily ASSASSINATED one of them, would they be wrong? Are the prisoners at Guantanamo being treated with the JUSTICE we pretend to extol? I've asked in a couple of posts numerous questions. Its your privilege to respond or not. Or to respond in any fashion that suits your thinking. I DON'T appreciate being equated with Teabaggers. Its akin to comparing John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman on economic theory. I believe we're both basically on the same side. I'm all for changing the subject.
+5 # Dave W. 2011-05-09 09:22
rm, President Huckabee, after signing the repeal of
“Obamacare” celebrated by announcing his own
Health care plan tentatively titled “Huck-a-Buck.”
The President, former Minister and still occasional
Fox News Pundit stated he has the cure for all that
“Ailes” us. Effective immediately, all hospital televisions
Will show Fox News on a 24/7 basis. The new policy
has been euphemistically called “Yoo Tube.”
Copyright infractions may apply.

The future perhaps? I sure as hell hope not.
-3 # rm 2011-05-08 20:41
Fried writes, "The same Muslim men and women bin Laden sought to recruit to jihad in the name of his Pol Pot-like caliphate are now revolting for a chance to lead decent lives in democratic nations governed by the same values that we proclaim guide us."

It is hard to believe that people who write idiotically false statements like this can keep a job at Harvard. They don't understand bin Laden or Pol Pot. They have only watched too much US TV and have heads filled with boogiemen. I wonder just exactly what the "values that we proclaim guide us" are? I'd be scared to discover what the brothers Fried have in mind.
+12 # Ralph Averill 2011-05-09 02:57
I don't see what is false, idiotic or otherwise, about Fried's statement. Would you expand on your point.
As to academic standards at Harvard; they gave a diploma to George W. Bush.
+7 # JimYoung 2011-05-09 08:55
A mentor, captured at Corregidor, reaffirmed my belief that torture is wrong, that it invariably cost more in the long run than any temporary gain.

I do believe people will decide to change sides, given the opportunity to see what makes us better (on balance). See for a description of the former enemies that made up the Vietnamese Kit Carson/Tiger Scouts. A Vietnamese friend told me one former VC, captured as a 15 year old, was going to be shot but his commander's pistol failed to fire in 3 attempts. By some divine inspiration, this commander who had routinely killed captives for a dozen years or more (like his family had been killed by VC), started asking the boy why he had become a VC. When his story closely matched why the commander had chosen the other side, he not only spared him but they became inseparable, with the boy becoming his personal body guard, sleeping on the floor, blocking the door to his bedroom from from old enemies, thirty years after being spared. Though they would kill their old friends and neighbors in an instant during combat, they would treat each others families with respect and try to make peace, or convert them whenever possible. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway's, "We are Soldiers, Still," explains some of better than I could ever do.
+23 # CL38 2011-05-08 23:17
I heard an interview on NPR today in which some former Bush administration hack argued that torture is what gave us the info to find bin Laden--more of the Bush admin trying to take credit and rationalize what it did. Others assert this torture did not give info that led to bin Laden. Even if torture worked, this could never make it right.

Sane people everyone understand and agree that torture is evil, immoral, against our laws and international laws and is flat out wrong.

Anything else takes us back into the Dark Ages.
+7 # Betty Faas 2011-05-09 00:45
When I read some articles and some comments, I get the idea that there are some authors of some articles as well as some commenters who are hired by powerful employers to manipulate the perceptions of the masses, rather than adding insightful information and discussion to current events.
+14 # chinaski 2011-05-09 07:31
The idea that underpins the Geneva Convention is the assumption of guilt on all sides. There is no moral high ground available. No pretext by which torture may be justified because "we are the GOOD guys", and have more intrinsic value than our enemy, therefore torture used to save OUR lives is justifiable".
The moral high ground started the Inquisition. "We have to torture you to save your soul". Torture and moral justification go hand-in-glove.
To put it simply, a people who give their assent to torture, are by definition, no worthy of the so-called 'protection' that torture promises to bring.
BTW, since when did we start letting our televisions tell us what to think? Jack Bauer is an image on a screen, meant for entertainment purposes ONLY. If I want moral guidance I'll look inside myself, and not stop looking until I find it.
+12 # genierae 2011-05-09 07:41
As long as Republicans are taken seriously by enough voters to keep them in office, we will be subjected to their fear-induced policies. They are holding us back from creating a new American society based on the common good, and every time Democratic leaders try to create real change, Republicans use every dishonest, dirty trick in the book to demolish their efforts. Those who are ruled by fear are at the mercy of their egos, and the ego's clamor drowns out the voice of the conscience and therefore makes crimes such as torture seem rational. Republicans are the neanderthals of present day politics, therefore they are a clear and present danger to any real, lasting progress. They must be marginalized and shown to be fanatics who have lost touch with the interests of the American people if this country is to survive. They are a much more dangerous threat to us than any bin Ladens the world has to offer, and if we value sanity and peace, we must begin to take that threat seriously.
0 # billy bob 2011-05-09 08:02
Rock, Feel free to join the discussion here.
+5 # bobby t. 2011-05-09 08:15
Tannenbaum's rule: when in survival mode, all rules are off.
And since when does the Catholic church have anything to tell us about killing or torture? Some people don't read history, or the bible.
And some people don't read the latest newspaper either. Please don't speak to us of Catholic morality.
+4 # jeenious 2011-05-09 10:07
There are non-torture techniques that are far more reliable than torture. Torture makes sense to people who are ignorant of that fact.

In any large population of humans there is a fringe population of pathological sadists not made, but born. However, a culture of sadism can be created, involving the majority of a population. Children whose parents are raped and murdered in front of their eyes, and who are then used as military slaves (sexually, as well as for special military purposes), can be made into cold-blooded killers of innocents, and rapists and torturers. Right now, today, there are parts of Africa where this phenomenon is not the exception, but the rule. Also, right here in the U.S. there are children who have grown up under conditions that condition them to feel, think and behave as does a born psychopath. In the armed forces, and in the police forces, of ANY nation, there are individuals who are psychopaths by birth (just as there are people born with various kind so abnormalities), and there are individuals who have grown up under conditions that would turn anyone into a fiend. Some of these individuals mask their sadistic and exploitive natures until opportunities arise in which they are encouraged to express their sadistic leanings, or feel they can do so without risk to themselves.

Sadism and torture are one and the same.
+3 # jeenious 2011-05-09 10:40
To genierae: This is not to differ with you, but to extend upon your point above. Both major U.S. political parties have engaged in economic idiocy, in exchange for policies geared more toward PERSONAL GAIN to the politicians, than anything else. Unsustainable economic policies are what they are, no matter who starts or maintains them. and no matter who gets elected as a result.

A healthy economy is one of balance. Too little regulation is detrimental, and too much is detrimental. Too little tax is as detrimental as too much tax.

Too much power to any minority is just as detrimental as too little power to a minority.

Too much government power is bad, but no worse than too little.

Too much regulation is harmful, and so is too little.

Big business, given its head, and running amuck is destructive for everybody but those who profit from big business, but when kept from running amuck, big business offers advantages.

Republican propaganda suggests that big business and big money (the marketplace)wou ld make the world better for everybody, if government and the voters would just get out of the way, and stop impeding them in that goal, by putting checks and balances on them.

ANY imbalance is unhealthy. Currently, big business and the top 1% of wealth have too much control, and want more.
0 # genierae 2011-05-12 10:47
jeenious: I agree that balance is the key, but a false equivalence only confuses the issue. I also know that big money is now corrupting more Democrats than ever before, but if I were to use an integrity meter to measure both parties on a scale of one to ten: I would give Democrats a six, and Republicans a minus ten. I challenge anyone who reads this to name me one present-day Republican who can show any real character to compare to Bernie Sanders or Dennis Kucinich. Or Sherrod Brown, or Al Franken, or Jan Schakowski. One Republican who cares about the common good of the American people and has the grit to stand up to the rich elites who really run this world. ONE. I won't hold my breath while I'm waiting for a response.
+4 # lvpapa 2011-05-09 16:20
Simple question: Are we torturing to make them talk or to make them not talk? Think of the Bush atrocities and oil deals and ask yourself this question.
+4 # billy bob 2011-05-10 01:00
We are torturing the for the reason George Orwell states several decades ago.

The object of torture is torture. I'll add that it has the added benefit of intimidating law abiding citizens so they won't complain.
-6 # Thee Dave Moore 2011-05-11 16:56
Waterboarding cannot be torture. We waterboard our own military people to prepare them if captured for similar treatment. There is not residual in waterboarding that true torture has. This is a straw man argument. Stop this shameful assault on freedom loving people.
+2 # Cliff 2011-05-11 20:03
Torture is always wrong. Was the information gained useful in getting Bin Laden? I doubt it. I think that you would get more useful information by chitchatting with the enemy. Which makes it all the more stupid for exporting every Arab and Muslim after 9/11.

But as happy as I am that Bin Laden is dead, it is wrong to celebrate it. Still, no matter how it was handled, I would hate to have seen the fall-out if the mission failed and if they kept him alive, it would have been a disaster.

One more thing, I am betting that Pakistan knew we were coming and looked the other way. We were there 40 minutes. A helicopter blew up. I find it hard to believe that the Pakistani police could not have been there in 5 minutes.
+1 # jeenious 2011-05-12 18:51

Glad you didn't hold your breath.

Nice pearl diving.
+1 # jeenious 2011-05-12 18:56
Thee Dave Moore,

Check again. Some of our own have broken so badly under water boarding that the value of it as preparation is doubtful. There are some things you cannot train for.
Torture and death are two of them. The human body and mind have limited durability.

That is why, in security work, some personnel are deliberately misinformed, and those provided the nitty are limited to a need to know basis, only.

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