Cliff May

When I was asked to appear on the Daily Show, the news-with-views-and-edgy comedy TV program, I was reluctant. The issue: whether "enhanced interrogation techniques" used to pry information about terrorist plots from al-Qaeda leaders should be regarded as torture and those responsible prosecuted. How would Jon Stewart, the acerbic and unabashedly liberal host, make this issue funny? How would I make it serious?

In the end, I agreed. Why? Because millions of Americans don't read newspapers, web-zines and wonky blogs. If my mission is to tell the public what I believe to be the truth about life-and-death issues, I have to be willing to go where the public is.

As always on TV, I'd have to make my case in sound-bites - though in this instance, many would be swallowed by Jon's punch lines, and by the studio audience's laughter, cheers and hoots. I figured I'd better try to prepare myself by running an interview in my head. What follows is the interview I fantasized.

Jon: So, Cliff, let's get to the point: How can you support torture!?!?!

Cliff: Actually, Jon, I don't. But more important: The CIA officials who have performed harsh interrogations do not support torture. The lawyers who wrote the memos telling the CIA what was permitted and what was not permitted don't support torture. Nor do the congressmen - including Democrats -- who not only didn't ban these practices - they funded them.

J: You don't think the torture memos told these guys to go ahead and knock yourself out - or rather knock out your prisoners?

C: No one who reads the memos can think that. The media keep calling these "torture memos." They're really "anti-torture memos." They tell the CIA where they must draw the line. They instruct them not to cross from coercive interrogations - sometimes called "stress and duress" - to torture, a practice which is defined under law, illegal and prohibited. You can disagree about where the attorneys drew the line - but drawing it was indisputably what they were doing in these memos.

J: C'mon, Cliff. You're trying to tell me waterboarding is not torture?


Cliff May

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