In his latest address – on Guantanamo detainees – President Obama said something of extraordinary importance that seems to have been missed by the media:
“I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more…I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.”
As this President chooses his words carefully, these claims need to be understood.
Note that Mr. Obama did not say what nearly all opponents of water-boarding say – that water-boarding is not an effective method of extracting reliable, life-saving, information. He took no issue with former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s claims that water-boarding or “enhanced interrogation” saved American and other lives. Indeed, he clearly leaves open the possibility, even the likelihood, that this claim is accurate. Rather, what he says is that “methods like water-boarding were not necessary to keep us safe” – not necessary, not ineffective. And why does he believe this? Because they are not “the most effective means of interrogation.”
In other words, the President’s view seems to be that water-boarding the three terrorists did elicit vital, life-saving, information. However, he contends that we could have obtained all that information using means of interrogation that were both non-brutal and more effective.
I pray the President is right. I would love America to be able to say “America never uses brutal methods of interrogation, let alone tortures” while simultaneously obtaining information it needs from captured terrorists to save thousands of innocent people from death and maiming.
It is as if the President, or anyone else, announced that brutal methods of combating cancer like chemotherapy and radiation were “not the most effective means” of combating cancer – and then refused to say what non-brutal means were more effective.
This is the paramount issue in the water-boarding debate. As Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said five years ago, it is essentially a no-brainer that we must “do what you have to do” if we apprehend a terrorist who has the information that can prevent an imminent terrorist attack.
Most opponents of water-boarding terrorists rely on the belief that such a method is as unnecessary as it is illegal. Therefore, if it is shown that water-boarding did in fact provide information that saved many innocent lives, opponents have to argue one of two positions: that there was a better, non-brutal, method available; or that it is morally preferable to have innocent Americans and others killed, brain damaged, blinded, and paralyzed rather than water-board a single terrorist.
This would end the debate, give America more security, and enable us to say we never water-boarding or torture.
I, for one, pray those methods exist. But I don’t believe they do or that the President has a clue what they are.