Cliff May

  On one extreme of the debate over interrogating terrorists are the Jack Bauers, those who -- like the lead character in Fox’s hit series “24”-- think you do whatever it takes to get the information you need from someone plotting mass murder. At the other extreme is the anti-war left: They wouldn’t harm a hair on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s head to save Disneyland at Christmas.  

Those of us who hold views somewhere between these poles ought to be having a serious discussion about what methods should be permissible and under what circumstances. But that’s become close to impossible. A case in point: I was on “The Abrams Report” on MSNBC last week to discuss whether Judge Michael Mukasey, during congressional hearings, should have said whether “waterboarding” -- simulated drowning -- constitutes torture and therefore must be prohibited.  

I argued that Mr. Mukasey was right to reserve judgment. Should he be confirmed as attorney general, he’ll want to study the issue before rendering a legal opinion. He’ll want to know how painful waterboarding is, whether it inflicts permanent damage, whether it achieves results that less aggressive methods do not.  

Dan Abrams, the show’s host, would hear none of it. As I tried to make my points, he aired footage of what appeared to be a subject undergoing waterboarding.  It looked unpleasant. That means it’s a form of torture, he insisted, therefore it obviously must be banned.  

I asked Mr. Abrams, and his other guest, liberal talk radio show host Stephanie Miller, to define torture in a sentence or two.  Neither would do so. Ms. Miller said torture was like pornography – she knows it when she sees it. I tried to get them to be specific about what interrogation techniques they would allow: Sleep deprivation? Incarceration in a cold cell? Loud music? Isolation and boredom? Slaps upside the head? They would not say.  

After the show, the left-wing blogs were quick to attack me. The Democratic Underground said: “Cliff May should be waterboarded.” On the Daily Kos, someone who calls himself “Black Max” accused me of having proposed that Ms. Miller be tortured. Another website called me a “fascist.” Anatomical and scatological terms were used to describe me as well.  

Do these people not understand that we face a deadly serious dilemma? To win a war against shadowy Islamist terrorist movements will require good intelligence. To obtain that intelligence, captured terrorists must be interrogated. Which techniques are effective? Which techniques are so cruel that they should be off limits -- even if innocent lives will be lost?  


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.