Lelyveld Article On Torture In New York Times Breaks New Ground
Unlike the Los Angeles Times, which has been one dimensionally critical of the United States forces on this topic, the headline of the careful Lelyveld article raises the key question and the article explores it in great depth.
"Whether we like it or not, detainees in the war on terrorism will be subjected to lies, threats and highly coercive force," the headline declares. "Can we draw lines and set rules about techniques and approaches? Do we want to?"
Lelyveld's answers amount to a qualified yes. He is opposed to torture per ce, but he is ambivalent to some extent on what he calls "torture lite."
The article raises in various contexts -- Iraqi, Israeli and American -- the question of what is justified in terms of compelling suspect terrorists to talk, given the likelihood that if they do not talk, major losses of life may occur from terrorist acts.
At times, Lelyveld writes turgidly and the article shies away from precise answers or dogmatic statements.
But unlike the Amnesty International polemics, accusing the U.S. of establishing a Gulag at Guantanamo and elsewhere, Lelyveld makes the point that the number of instances of torture have been rather small, and, as he says, "While Defense Department investigators are still kept busy looking into detainees' complaints of abuse in Iraq, it has to be acknowledged that we've yet to hear of any fatalities under interrogation in 2004 and 2005."
This is welcome perspective one doesn't find in the L.A. Times, although Lelyveld does not give the Bush Administration a free ride.
He calls it "an administration that says it abhors torture but prefers not to be pinned down on what it now considers torture to be."
The article shows the uses to which a good magazine in a newspaper can be put. This is a far more lengthy and discursive examination of the question than would easily fit into the news pages under most circumstances.
Lelyveld has listened carefully to the Israelis and examined Israeli interrogation tactics. Another headline in the article relates, "Israeli specialists are amazed by American interrogators' short tours of duty and reliance on outsourcing. 'Unprofessional' is the mildest word they use."
But what has been happening is that the critics seem to have cowed the Administration. Appeasement advocates like Jimmy Carter, responsible for so many weaknesses in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan during his own administration, is talking a great deal again, and, as usual, to the detriment of American interests.
In this context, the Lelyveld article is excellent. It raises these questions in the proper context: What can we do fairly honorably and still win?