Mercy to the Guilty, Cruelty to the Innocent

Thomas Sowell on the West’s death wish:

… In ways large and small, domestically and internationally, the West is surrendering on the installment plan to Islamic extremists.

The late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put his finger on the problem when he said: “The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.”

He wrote this long before Barack Obama became President of the United States. But this administration epitomizes the “concessions and smiles” approach to countries that are our implacable enemies.

Western Europe has gone down that path before us but we now seem to be trying to catch up.

Still, the release of a mass-murdering terrorist, who went home to a hero’s welcome in Libya, shows that President Obama is not the only one who wants to move away from the idea of a “war on terror”– as if that will stop the terrorists’ war on us.

The ostensible reason for releasing al-Megrahi was compassion for a man terminally ill. It is ironic that this was said in Scotland, for exactly 250 years ago another Scotsman– Adam Smith– said, “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.”

That lesson seems to have been forgotten in America as well, where so many people seem to have been far more concerned about whether we have been nice enough to the mass-murdering terrorists in our custody than those critics have ever been about the innocent people beheaded or blown up by the terrorists themselves.

Tragically, those with this strange inversion of values include the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder. Although President Obama has said that he does not want to revisit the past, this is only the latest example of how his administration’s actions are the direct opposite of his lofty words.

It is not just a question of looking backward. The decision to second-guess CIA agents who extracted information to save American lives is even worse when you look forward.

Years from now, long after Barack Obama is gone, CIA agents dealing with hardened terrorists will have to worry about whether what they do to get information out of them to save American lives will make these agents themselves liable to prosecution that can destroy their careers and ruin their lives.

This is not simply an injustice to those who have tried to keep this country safe, it is a danger recklessly imposed on future Americans whose safety cannot always be guaranteed by sweet and gentle measures against hardened murderers.

Those who are pushing for legal action against CIA agents may talk about “upholding the law” but they are doing no such thing. Neither the Constitution of the United States nor the Geneva Convention gives rights to terrorists who operate outside the law.

There was a time when everybody understood this. German soldiers who put on American military uniforms, in order to infiltrate American lines during the Battle of the Bulge were simply lined up against a wall and shot– and nobody wrung their hands over it. Nor did the U.S. Army try to conceal what they had done. The executions were filmed and the film has been shown on the History Channel.

So many “rights” have been conjured up out of thin air that many people seem unaware that rights and obligations derive from explicit laws, not from politically correct pieties. If you don’t meet the terms of the Geneva Convention, then the Geneva Convention doesn’t protect you. If you are not an American citizen, then the rights guaranteed to American citizens do not apply to you.

That should be especially obvious if you are part of an international network bent on killing Americans. But bending over backward to be nice to our enemies is one of the many self-indulgences of those who engage in moral preening.

But getting other people killed so that you can feel puffed up about yourself is profoundly immoral. So is betraying the country you took an oath to protect.

And the usually liberal Richard Cohen, who abhors “torture,” is nonetheless worried:

Call him Ishmael.

Call him a terrorist or a suicide bomber or anything else you want, but understand that he is willing — no, anxious — to give his life for his cause. Call him also a captive, and know that he works with others as part of a team, like the 9/11 hijackers, all of whom died, willingly. Ishmael is someone I invented, but he is not a far-fetched creation. You and I know he exists, has existed and will exist again. He is the enemy.

Now he is in American custody. What will happen? How do we get him to reveal his group’s plans and the names of his colleagues? It will be hard. It will, in fact, be harder than it used to be. He can no longer be waterboarded. He knows this. He cannot be deprived of more than a set amount of sleep. He cannot be beaten or thrown up against even a soft wall. He cannot be threatened with shooting or even frightened by the prospect of an electric drill. Nothing really can be threatened against his relatives — that they will be killed or sexually abused.

He knows the new restrictions. He knows the new limits. He may even suggest to his interrogators that their jobs are on the line — that the Justice Department is looking over their shoulders. The tape is running. Everything is being recorded. He is willing to give up his life. Are his interrogators willing to give up their careers? He laughs.

This business of what constitutes torture is a complicated matter. It is further complicated by questions about its efficacy: Does it sometimes work? Does it never work? Is it always immoral? What about torture that saves lives? What if it saves many lives? What if one of those lives is your child’s?

Attorney General Eric Holder has named a special prosecutor to see whether any of the CIA’s interrogators broke the law. Special prosecutors are often themselves like interrogators — they don’t know when to stop. They go on and on because, well, they can go on and on. One of them managed to put Judith Miller of The New York Times in jail — a wee bit of torture right there. No CIA interrogator can feel safe. The interrogators are about to be interrogated.

No one can possibly believe that America is now safer because of the new restrictions on enhanced interrogation and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor. The captured terrorist of my fertile imagination, assuming he had access to an Internet cafe, knows about the special prosecutor. He knows his interrogator is under scrutiny. What person under those circumstances is going to spill his beans?…

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