The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks. [...]
There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most” in the years and years of painstaking intelligence and detective work that led a Navy Seals team to Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.
That squares with the frequent testimony over the past decade from many other interrogators and officials. They have said repeatedly, and said again this week, that the best information came from prisoners who were not tortured. The Times article said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, fed false information to his captors during torture.
Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify Mr. Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard. [...]
There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.
The only addition I would make to this is that it is not merely the Bush administration which has condoned torture and other dubious practices. In fact, a discussion is underway in the Catholic world as to whether or not the killing of Osama bin Laden meets just war criteria, or was an unjust extra-legal assassination. Like Mark Shea, I don't think there's enough evidence to declare the latter--but I do think it's an important question, though the political realities may mean that it's never definitively answered.
The point here, though, is that it wouldn't matter if torture really did get us the intel that led to the successful operation against Osama bin Laden. Torture is still wrong. And it's wrong even if the New York Times says so, too--however mind-boggling it might be for me to have to agree with them.