Maybe living in a target city helps the reality checks

Richard Cohen, after an opening paragraph in which he basically begs Leftist bloggers not to attack him (“I hate Cheney more than you do”) goes on to do a pretty honest evaluation of the merits of Cheney’s claim that “enhanced interrogation techniques” save lives (and throws in a nice little attack on Pelosi’s embarrassing efforts to avoid her own past):

Still, every dog has his day, and Cheney is barking up a storm on the efficacy of what can colloquially be called torture. He 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?

In a similar vein, can we also find out what Nancy Pelosi knew and when she knew it? If she did indeed know about waterboarding back in 2003, that would hardly make her a war criminal. But if she knew and insists otherwise, that would make her one of those people who will not acknowledge that the immediate post-Sept. 11 atmosphere allowed for methods that now seem abhorrent. Certain Democratic politicians remind me of what Oscar Levant supposedly said of Doris Day: “I knew [her] before she was a virgin.” They have no memory of who they used to be.

I’m impressed that Cohen was able to rise against both his own personal and political biases.  I’m not inclined to believe, though, that he was motivated purely by high-mindedness. I assume Cohen lives in either New York or Washington.  I therefore wonder if his sudden willingness to reexamine the whole “torture” thing is because he lives in cities that, to terrorists’ eyes, have big targets painted on them.

It’s easy to whine about the immorality of torture when you’re pretty sure that, despite your whining, your government is going to use a certain amount of bullying against the bad guys to protect you.  It becomes less easy to support that high-minded stance when you’re suddenly faced with the specter of a government that promises to take you seriously, even if that means it helps paint even brighter colors on the target currently decorating your backside.

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