Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- Earlier this month, I wrote a column outlining two exceptions to the no-torture rule: the ticking time bomb scenario and its less extreme variant in which a high-value terrorist refuses to divulge crucial information that could save innocent lives. The column elicited protest and opposition that were, shall we say, spirited.

And occasionally stupid. Dan Froomkin, writing for washingtonpost.com and echoing a common meme among my critics, asserted that "the ticking time bomb scenario only exists in two places: On TV and in the dark fantasies of power-crazed and morally deficient authoritarians." (He later helpfully suggested that my moral deficiencies derived from "watching TV and fantasizing about being Jack Bauer.")

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered, as we now say, this enhanced interrogation explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the ('87) Landau Commission (guidelines), we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."

Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. (The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin's moral calculus.)

That moral calculus is important. Even John McCain says that in ticking time bomb scenarios you "do what you have to do." The no-torture principle is not inviolable. One therefore has to think about what kind of transgressive interrogation might be permissible in the less pristine circumstance of the high-value terrorist who knows about less imminent attacks. (By the way, I've never seen five seconds of "24.")

My column also pointed out the contemptible hypocrisy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is feigning outrage now about techniques that she knew about and did nothing to stop at the time.

My critics say: So what if Pelosi is a hypocrite? Her behavior doesn't change the truth about torture.

But it does. The fact that Pelosi (and her intelligence aide) and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and dozens of other members of Congress knew about the enhanced interrogation and said nothing, and did nothing to cut off the funding, tells us something very important.


Charles Krauthammer

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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