Guess who wrote this:

I’m against torture.  [I’ll go] along with some clever manipulation of a suspect’s hopes and fears: But rubber truncheons? Electrodes? Pliers? Razor blades? Blocks of ice? Not in my name, no. Am I an absolutist on this? Yes, I am. Let’s say we know, beyond reasonable doubt, that a large thermonuclear bomb, disguised as a refrigerator, has been installed on a high floor in a high building in a U.S. city. We don’t know anything else – not even which city – but we have a guy in custody who could probably tell us all about it if he chose to. Why would we not use “extraordinary measures” to make him sing? On one side of the scales: a few hours of intense physical pain for a very evil person. On the other: millions of American lives. Why would we not torture the guy? Why is this not, for me, a no-brainer?

The answer: it is the eccentric NRO contributor John Derbyshire a few years ago. It is ironic that now the NRO Corner blog is favourably dicussing Krauthammer‘s similar scenario (with the opposite conclusion).

But the old Derbyshire’s piece is more interesting. What would Krauthammer say?

The first thing to be said about torture, as a means of discovering facts, was said by Aristotle in Book 1, Chapter 15 of Rhetorica: torture doesn’t work very well. Under physical torture, some people will lie; some will say anything to make the pain stop, even just for a while; and a surprising number will refuse to yield. Robert Conquest, in The Great Terror, gives a figure of “one in a hundred” for those who failed to confess under the methods used by Stalin’s secret police. However, most of those pulled in by the NKVD were ordinary people guilty of nothing at all. Dedicated resistance workers, fanatical terrorists, or revolutionaries would show better stats. In his memoir Nothing to Declare, Taki Theodoracopulos tells the story of a young WWII Greek resistance fighter named Perrikos, who blew up the German HQ building in Athens on orders from Taki’s father. Arrested and tortured to death by the Nazis, Perrikos revealed nothing, claiming to the end that he had acted alone, under no one’s orders. There were many such cases.

[A Chinese dissident Chia Thye Poh] was kept in solitary confinement for twenty-six years by the Singapore authorities for having resigned his seat in parliament to protest the policies of Lee Kuan Yew. In their attempts to get him to sign a confession that he was a Communist, which he wasn’t, Chia’s jailers inflicted on him such peculiarly modern tortures as forcing him to stand naked in a freezing room with the air-conditioning going full blast, and piping loud Muzak into his cell day and night. Chia never cracked. Why not? asked Buruma, at a meeting with Chia. “He was much too polite to say so, but it was clear my question had baffled him. I wished I hadn’t asked. ‘How could I have signed?’ he said, very softly. ‘It wasn’t true.'”

And then there is love. Above and beyond anything the torturer can inflict on your own poor body and mind, there are the things he can do to people you care about. [This] kind of thing doesn’t necessarily stop at threats, though. [The Old Bolshevik] S. V. Kossior stood up under everything Stalin’s men could do to him, but was broken at last when his 16-year-old daughter was brought in and raped in front of him. In another case of that time, a mother and son were separately interrogated and tortured. The son confessed, but the mother did not. She was then confronted with her broken son in a joint interrogation. (She still held out.)

This, gentle reader, is torture. Don’t let’s kid ourselves that we can pick and choose from the menu. “Yes, we’ll beat, but we won’t pull out fingernails.” … “Yes, OK, we’ll pull out fingernails, but we won’t rape your children in front of you.” Forget it — when you start on the road of torture, there is no end. We beat him: he doesn’t talk. We remove his fingernails, and then, for good measure, his toenails: Still he won’t talk. That nuke is ticking away in a high building, in some American city. The suspect has a 16-year-old daughter: Do we send for her?

My answer would be “No!” but I’m under no illusions that this is an easy call. A whole city — perhaps my city — full of American men, women and children, might be saved by one single act of barbarism by a salaried employee of the federal government. Why won’t I endorse this? I am willing to see the U.S. do things that, in the scale of human suffering, far exceed a rape — the bombing of enemy cities, for example. A U.S. bomber pilot is also a salaried employee of Uncle Sam — of me, as a taxpayer — isn’t he? If I am willing [to] let him incinerate the helpless citizens of Baghdad or Kabul with bombs, why do I balk at letting FBI agents apply electrodes to a terrorist’s eyeballs? [Why] won’t I sanction these extreme methods? Is it because I cling to some quaint vestige of medieval chivalry — “it’s not fair”? I don’t think so. What’s fair or chivalrous about dropping bombs on the schoolchildren of Baghdad?

I’m afraid I’m going to bail out right here. I don’t know the answers to the questions I’ve been posing. [I know] very well how I feel: Aerial bombing? — Yes, even if not very accurate. Torture of prisoners? — No, not even to save a million lives. Some things are just wrong, and the deliberate torture of suspects is wrong, wrong, wrong, in some way that the dropping of bombs on cities is not. [We shall] all die sooner or later. [While] we live, let’s live like human beings, with some dignity, some humanity, some pride, some things we will not do.

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