You see, while Mr. Churchill may have uttered a choice opinion or two on torture, he was known to change his mind on occasion (even his party). He also could wrap the truth in a riddle or enigma. Bear in mind that he was the guy who said famously, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” The kind of war being waged in the 1940s was vastly different from our current experience. In other words, ticking time bomb analogies don’t really work when looking at back then. The bombs were always ticking – and falling. Duh.
Yet, there is evidence that, in fact, torture did go on as part of the British World War Two effort. There is the story, for example, of “The London Cage,” a special operation run by MI19 (they were tasked with getting vital information from prisoners of war), housed at the posh Kensington Palace Gardens. Written reports based on information in the National Archives across the pond tell of more than 3,500 men being “processed” through the highly secretive “torture center,” even while Churchill was opining against torture.
How intense were interrogations in the “cage?” One written complaint found in the archives – from a German journalist who had also spent sometime under Gestapo “supervision” - talked about how much better he was treated by the German police. Do the math.
What is interesting though, is that Winston Churchill was the consummate warrior who regularly expressed a willingness to do what was needed to win a battle or war. Another example of his “whatever it takes” approach was when he, filled with fear that the Germans were working on a biological weapon, tried to persuade Uncle Sam to develop an extensive germ warfare program in 1942.
Churchill also contemplated the idea of trying to bring the war to an end in 1944 via bombs that would release anthrax, only to be disabused of the notion by his generals. And, of course, there is the strange case of Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s crony, who jumped out of a plane over Scotland on a mysterious mission, only to be rebuffed by the Prime Minister who quipped, “Hess or no Hess, I’m going to watch the Marx Brothers.”
How cool was he?
Later though, Churchill – who desired to keep Hess’ presence and purpose away from a surprisingly powerful “peace party” – one that sought to oust him from 10 Downing Street – had Hess locked up for the duration of the war. Think: Gitmo for one.
Therefore, Mr. Obama quoting Winston Churchill to try to bolster his argument is akin to George W. Bush citing Ward Churchill to defend his record.
As Charles Krauthammer writes, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” – while certainly something that makes all decent people uncomfortable – can and should be permissible under two narrowly specific circumstances: the proverbial “ticking bomb,” and to glean information that will save lives. To take this option off the table is at best naïve and at worst foolish. At any rate, whatever Churchill said about torture, does anyone at all acquainted with the history of those days really believe he meant it – or that his enemies believed him?
President Obama has it all backwards. The taking of innocent human life via abortion should be the black and white moral issue that helps define national righteousness. It’s torture that should be “rare, but legal.” This would make for a better and safer world.
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