Marc Thiessen makes some very good points in this article. I think he's right about people who are against the use of EIT's as a last resort in order to save American lives being pacifists. I agree with Marc Thiessen's assessment here.
Andrew Sullivan Attempts to Explain Catholic Teaching . . . [Marc Thiessen]
Andrew Sullivan takes issue with my post comparing opponents of enhanced interrogation to pacifists. With characteristic humility, he writes:
Let me explain some basic just war principles to Thiessen. Force and violence can be defended morally in war as the least worst option in a world where evil exists, and where the enemy is at large and fully capable of killing you. But when you have captured the enemy, when he is utterly under your control, tied naked to chair by shackles in a cell, the morality of the use of force shifts dramatically. When you unleash violence against him when he cannot defend himself, you have crossed a core moral line.
Thanks for the lesson, Andrew. But as one might suspect, he misses the point entirely. I dedicate a chapter of Courting Disaster to the morality of enhanced interrogation — including debunking some of Andrew’s specious arguments. But briefly:
Andrew’s argument rests on the presumption that that once a captured terrorist is in custody, he has already been rendered “unable to cause harm” (the standard in the Catholic Catechism), and because he is powerless and completely at the mercy of his captors, any form of coercion is therefore unjust.
He is incorrect. Even when he is in custody, a captured terrorist like KSM is not powerless; he remains an unjust aggressor who retains the power to kill many thousands — simply by withholding information about the terrorist attacks he has set in motion. KSM had not been rendered unable to cause harm when he was interrogated by the CIA. Before his capture, he had set in motion plans for new attacks. By withholding that information while in custody, he held in his hands the lives of thousands of people.
Indeed, when KSM was brought into custody, he was asked by the CIA for information about those planned attacks. He replied: “Soon you will know.” With this statement, he communicated to his captors that: a) he had information on planned attacks, and b) he would not divulge that information until the attacks had occurred. There could hardly be a clearer moral case for coercive interrogation.
Even while sitting in a CIA black site, KSM remained an unjust aggressor who actively threatened our society. He possessed the power to kill. The government had a moral responsibility to render him unable to do harm by compelling him to divulge this information.
Indeed, the Catholic Catechism clearly states: “Legitimate defense can not only be a right, but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.” (emphasis added).
Clearly some form of coercion was morally permissible, and arguably required. What form that coercion should take is a prudential judgment for our elected leaders, taking into account the limits of the civil law and the circumstances of each particular case (how many people has the captured terrorist killed, what kind of information does he have, what kind of attack is he threatening, what are the consequences if we fail to elicit that information?). This is what President Bush and the senior officials in his administration did. (Andrew says we committed torture and compares the techniques the CIA used to those of the Gestapo — a comparison that is shameful and wrong, and one that I take apart in Courting Disaster.)
Reasonable people can differ about where the line should be drawn regarding the techniques we apply to elicit information. But Andrew is saying that no coercion whatsoever is permissible once a terrorist is in custody. That, my friends, is radical pacifism.
Message to Andrew: If you have a terrorist in custody who has set in motion plans for a mass-casualty attack, but you refuse to apply any type of coercion to get that information from him — knowing that thousands of innocent people may die as a result of that choice — you are a pacifist.