Our jurisprudence has the "reasonable man" standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.
On the morality of waterboarding and other "torture," Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the existing circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.
Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. As Slate's Jacob Weisberg points out, those favoring harsh interrogation at the time included Alan Dershowitz, Mark Bowden and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. In November 2001, Alter suggested we consider "transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies" (i.e. those that torture). And, as Weisberg notes, these were just the liberals.
So what happened? The reason Pelosi raised no objection to waterboarding at the time, the reason the American people (who by 2004 knew what was going on) strongly re-elected the man who ordered these interrogations, is not because she and the rest of the American people suffered a years-long moral psychosis from which they have just now awoken. It is because at that time they were aware of the existing conditions -- our blindness to al-Qaeda's plans, the urgency of the threat, the magnitude of the suffering that might be caused by a second 9/11, the likelihood that the interrogation would extract intelligence that President Obama's own director of national intelligence now tells us was indeed "high-value information" -- and concluded that on balance it was a reasonable response to a terrible threat.
And they were right.
You can believe that Pelosi and the whole American public underwent a radical transformation from moral normality to complicity with war criminality back to normality. Or you can believe that their personalities and moral compasses have remained steady throughout the years, but changes in circumstances (threat, knowledge, imminence) alter the moral calculus attached to any interrogation technique.
You don't need a psychiatrist to tell you which of these theories is utterly fantastical.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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