Jeff Jacoby

When US Representative Steve King learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed by US troops in Pakistan, he couldn't resist a little crowing about the efficacy of torture.

"Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?" the Iowa Republican tweeted on May 2.

It was an outrageous remark, but King wasn't going out on a limb. A parade of others, mostly Republicans, have joined him in claiming that the death of bin Laden had vindicated the use of waterboarding -- the most notorious of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" the Bush administration employed to extract information from senior al-Qaeda detainees.

On the Senate floor, for example, Georgia's Saxby Chambliss called the bin Laden killing "one of the clearest examples of the extraordinary value" of the CIA's interrogation practices, while former Bush staffer Marc Thiessen wrote in a Washington Post column that Obama should award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the interrogators who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed into cooperating with US intelligence agents.

US Representative Peter King of New York, the House Homeland Security chairman, told Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly that waterboarding loosened the first crucial detail in tracking down bin Laden. "And so for those who say that waterboarding doesn't work, to say that it should be stopped and never used again -- we got vital information which directly led to us bin Laden." When candidates in the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina last Thursday were asked whether they would "support a resumption of waterboarding," three of them raised their hands to lusty audience applause.

I don't know whether waterboarding was indispensable to rolling up bin Laden; for every interrogation expert who says it was, another expert argues the opposite. But the case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness. It is wrong when bad guys do it to good guys. It is just as wrong when good guys do it to al-Qaeda.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.