Krauthammer: Stupid is as Stupid Does

Posted on June 18, 2009


In Michael Calderone’s political media column, Politico reports today that:

In a move sure to ignite the left-wing blogosphere, columnist Dan Froomkin (author of the “White House Watch” blog) has been let go by the news organization, POLITICO hears. In so many words, Froomkin was told that his blog had essentially run its course.

The column notes several incidents that may have led up to Froomkin’s passing, including this altercation with the Washington Post’s hoary conservative columnist, Charles Krauthammer:

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer even took Froomkin to task in one of his columns, calling Froomkin’s analysis “stupid.”

Krauthammer’s uninspired remark is not given much analysis, but here is the actual comment as it appeared in his May 15, 2009 column:

This month, I wrote a column outlining two exceptions to the no-torture rule: the ticking time bomb scenario and its less extreme variant in which a high-value terrorist refuses to divulge crucial information that could save innocent lives. The column elicited protest and opposition that were, shall we say, spirited.And occasionally stupid.

Dan Froomkin writing for and echoing a common meme among my critics, asserted that “the ticking time bomb scenario only exists in two places: On TV and in the dark fantasies of power-crazed and morally deficient authoritarians.” (He later helpfully suggested that my moral deficiencies derived from “watching TV and fantasizing about being Jack Bauer.”)

On October 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel’s existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: “If we’d been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out whereWaxman was being held.”

Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin’s moral calculus.

There’s some problems with this “ticking time bomb” scenario and the suggestion that torture provided its solution.

Firstly, the TTB scenario is generally given much more traction than it should have BY REPRESENTING THE HUMAN STAKES IN DOZENS, HUNDREDS OR EVEN THOUSANDS.

Secondly, those torture techniques apparently only rendered enough data to get the target of the rescue killed. The Israelis did not seem to know, for example, that HAMAS had express instructions to shoot the soldier if there were any rescue attempts.

GAZA CITY – The kidnappers of the young Israeli soldier knew that his comrades would be searching for him, and that the end would come quickly if the Israelis found their safe house.

“The order was, ‘If there’s any movement around the house, your first step is to kill the soldier. … Don’t think about your life. Your first step is to kill the soldier,'” saidImad Falouji, who was one of the Hamas leaders negotiating in secret with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “From then on, one man stood by the soldier 24 hours.”

So the commanders of the four Palestinian militants holding the terrified soldier gave them special instructions, a former Hamas leader recalled Friday, describing the 1994 kidnapping of Cpl. Nachshon Waxman.

When Israel located Waxman, its commandos stormed the safe house in the West Bank and began blasting the reinforced doors that stood between him and them. By the time they reached the second-floor room where the Israeli-American was tied to a chair, he had a bullet hole in his neck and one in his chest. He was dead.

Just think if this real-life scenario involved numerous hostages, or indeed, hundreds or thousands–a fair concern given that the TTB is almost never presented as a single-hostage situation, but nearly always a situation in which  “terrorists” are literally poised to ignite a human catastrophe. Krauthammer’s example today would be viewed as a complete failure of torture! Imagine touting techniques that quite counter-productively actually pulled the trigger that the terrorists had cocked! Stupid wouldn’t cover it.

In fact, the only way to succesfully save the life of the soldier, given the fact that HAMAS operatives were instructed to shoot him even though it would cost them their lives, WAS TO NEGOTIATE WITH THE TERRORISTS!