Pedicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead
Talk Left raises the possibility that torture may have been used somewhere in the process of hunting down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The U.S. does not approve of torture, claims President Bush. Does anyone have any doubt that Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly, the Iraqi customs inspector who turned on Zaqarwi after being arrested and held for months by the Jordanian police, talked as a result of being subjected to torture? ... So now we use information gained from torture to murder our target. What makes us different from them?
Alan Dershowitz, although not disapproving of Zarqawi's demise nevertheless maintains sight of the fact that the method used to kill Zarqawi has often been condemned as a crime. Solomonia quotes the Harvard law professor from a Yahoo news article:
As the civilized world justly celebrates the long overdue killing of Abu M Zarqawi, it must recall that his death was brought about by what has come to be known as "targeted assassination" or "targeted killings." This is the same technique that has been repeatedly condemned by the international community when Israel has employed it against terrorists who have murdered innocent Jews. When Israel targeted the two previous heads of Hamas, the British foreign secretary said: "targeted killings of this kind are unlawful and unjustified." The same views expressed at the United Nations and by several European heads of state. It was also expressed by various Human Rights organizations.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed that we were all entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts. In fairness its possible, even probable, that the Jordanians were less than gentle with Ziad Khalaf Raja al-Karbouly. There is certainly a chance that he was tortured in the very real sense of the word by the Jordanians, though no one knows this to be true. There's also a fairly high probability that, legally speaking, Alan Dershowitz is right that from the point of view of the 'international community' "targeted killings of this kind are unlawful and unjustified."
Of course it is also possible that Mr. al-Karbouly, knowing the reputation of the Jordanians sang like a canary rather than find out if their reputed ferocity was real. And it is conceivable that it's actually not illegal to target specific individuals in war. But let's suppose for the sake of argument that the Jordanians did torture al-Karbouly and that targeted assassinations are in fact illegal. What then?
The interesting thing about the Zarqawi case is that it allows one to examine the effect of necessity over law in an actual case. There's no need for a hypothetical like "what if you could save Europe by targeting Hitler?" or "what if you could save the lives of hundreds of children by torturing a terrorist?" In this case the hypothetical is actual. This has the effect of inverting the roles of the principles on trial. Would it be justified not to resort to unlimited measures in order to hunt down a person responsible for killing thousands of individuals? Can one ever allow a person like Zarqawi to live a single day more knowing that hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocents will die for our scruples? How many lives is a punctilious observance of the Geneva Convention worth? One, one hundred, one thousand, one million? And if a million is the price, what are our principles except for sale. The only question being the price.
Yet, some would say, if the ends justify the means then where do we stop? Historically the Allies did not stint at incinerating Hamburg and Dresden to beat Hitler; to level Hiroshima and Nagasaki to avoid a bloody invasion that may have killed even more Japanese. Nor did they stick at engaging in unlimited submarine warfare or machine-gunning the survivors of sinking Japanese troopships in the Bismarck Strait. We flatteringly call them the Greatest Generation not only because they bore the burden of the fighting but more importantly because they conveniently carried a burden of moral responsibility that we would never care to face. The Greatest Generation committed atrocities to secure victory. Because atrocities they were. Regrettable but past and so we could forget them. And for sixty years their victory kept us from needing to make such choices and we were glad of it. Until we faced our own war.
I don't mean to refute Talk Left's reproof, because I'm not sure if there are any canonical answers to the question of when it is proper to cast away the law. But I think it's important to make the choices clear to the public. It's dishonest to promise to keep them always safe; to ever "connect the dots" yet simultaneously promise never to match savage men for savagery. It would be better to tell the truth: that if in order to maintain our values we must sometimes stop short of harsh methods, we must also risk and spend lives to preserve those ideals. That if we hold them dear enough then a price must be paid for keeping them. In the very same way that US soldiers must daily risk their lives to obey rules of engagement. And a public unwilling to bear that risk should take the moral burden upon itself and change the rules rather than expect men to transgress them in secret for its guilty peace of mind.
In the last analysis, the preservation of a civilization's values is never free. It is possible to play by whatever rules we feel that our deepest civilizational values compel us to observe. But we must pay the price. We can, like the early Christians choose to face the lions rather than renounce our beliefs. But no one should have any illusions about the lions; and those Christians were virtuous precisely because they had no illusions about the lions. Our willingness to fight by the strictest legal standards must be matched by a corresponding willingness to sacrifice in order to uphold those standards. It may be necessary to bleed and to bleed at home to uphold our beliefs. Or change them. Talk Left merely poses the dilemma. But the choice is ours. The tragedy of the West is that it is simultaneously impatient for safety; intolerant of hardship and unable to bear guilt. The demand for no body bags; no protracted war; no inconvenience; no painstaking effort also means, in it's own way, a secret demand for no law.