"You'll never find it," he says smugly. The U.S. agent briefly entertains thoughts of violence. But he stifles them. He is both a devout Christian and a professional. He has a job to do, save lives -- and he intends to do it within the law and traditional rules of right and wrong. He is not Jack Bauer, just a dutiful, low-level public servant.
Back at the White House, the DNI says, "Madame President, our investigators want to know if they can water-board the detainee?"
"Wait a minute, Madame President," says Attorney General Charles Schumer, "they intercepted this guy's call without a warrant."
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger nods knowingly. "If we abuse our power now," he says, "the public will never trust us again."
So much for hypotheticals.
Water-boarding is an interrogation technique in which a piece of plastic is placed over a subject's face and water is poured on it. The subject feels as if he is drowning, although he is not. According to a report for ABC News by Brian Ross, Richard Esposito and Martha Raddatz: "Its most effective use, say current and former CIA officials, was in breaking Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, known as KSM, who subsequently confessed to a number of ongoing plots against the United States."
Two years ago, at the insistence of Sen. John McCain, the defense authorization bill included language prohibiting "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of detainees. Before that, according to a report last week in The New York Times, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel had issued a secret opinion saying, as the Times put it, that "in some circumstances not even water-boarding was necessarily cruel, inhuman or degrading, if, for example, a suspect was believed to possess crucial intelligence about a planned terrorist attack."
McCain has insisted the words "cruel, inhuman and degrading" in his legislation must be interpreted to prohibit water-boarding. So, why didn't he simply put the word "water-boarding" in his law?
If members of Congress now want to prohibit water-boarding of captured terrorists who might have knowledge of coming attacks, they should propose a law expressly forbidding it.
Then, we can have an illuminating public debate. Was pouring water over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's face an intrinsically evil act of torture no morally enlightened country should countenance, or an unavoidable act of self-defense that was as much a duty -- if not so severe -- as shooting a bomber running toward a marketplace?