Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Three cheers for Harold Ford, Jr. and Richard Cohen for talking sense on the "torture" debate

Three cheers for Harold Ford, Jr. for saying the obvious about the "torture" controversy.

Ford is a former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee who lost a Senate race barely in 2006 and now chairs the centrist Democratic Leadership Forum. He's been a talking head on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" and other MSNBC shows over the past couple of years. In that time, I often noted that Ford could talk more sense cogently in 60 seconds than you'd hear from most pols (not to mention MSNBC hosts) in a whole campaign. In the context of discussing Nancy Pelosi's constantly evolving story about how and when she was briefed about CIA harsh interrogation methods, Ford said this:

You have to remember when this was occurring. This is 2002, 2003. The country was in a different place, in a different space. And if you were to say to me, as an American, put aside my partisanship, that we have an opportunity to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city, to prevent killings in American cities, and we have to use certain techniques, I’m one of those Americans that would have voted a certain way, Chris. And that polling said it might have been torture, but I’m not as outraged.

Not surprisingly, Matthews reflexively accused Ford of "Cheney talk" and went on the muddy the discussion and try to put Ford on the defensive by dragging in Iraq and WMDs, but Ford held his ground on the main point: in the intelligence void about al Qaeda's structure, plans, methods, membership and leadership that existed after 9/11, no American President (or Speaker of the House or Congressman from Tennessee) would have left any stone unturned to be as sure as humanly possible that there would be no second attack.

Three cheers also for liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen for his column posing the question, "What if Cheney's Right?" The money quote:

[Cheney] says he knows of two CIA memos that support his contention that the harsh interrogation methods worked and that many lives were saved. "That's what's in those memos," he told Schieffer. They talk "specifically about different attack planning that was underway and how it was stopped."

Cheney says he once had the memos in his files and has since asked that they be released. He's got a point. After all, this is not merely some political catfight conducted by bloggers, although it is a bit of that, too. Inescapably, it is about life and death -- not ideology, but people hurling themselves from the burning World Trade Center. If Cheney is right, then let the debate begin: What to do about enhanced interrogation methods? Should they be banned across the board, always and forever? Can we talk about what is and not just what ought to be?

Indeed, these are the right questions. The moral calculus involved in waterboarding Abu Zabaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed is not as clear as some would like it to be, when viewed as a grave matter of life and death for innocent Americans.

No doubt, President Obama understands this, which is why he wants to get past the "torture" debate and leave himself and his CIA some future flexibility to cope with terrorist threats. Now if only the rest of his supporters would show the good sense demonstrated by Ford and Cohen.

What's your opinion? Post a comment.

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