Bill Clinton Makes Sense

Now there is a headline I never expected to type. Still, I must give credit where credit is due. On the matter of torture, or "enhanced interrogation techniques," or whatever you wish to call it, Bill sounded remarkably intelligent and thoughtful when he appeared on Meet The Press last Sunday.

The subject came up because a few days earlier Tim Russert had trapped Hillary Clinton in a presidential debate by quoting what Bill had said about torture in the past [Video here]. He had said that the U.S. should normally not use torture but there should be provision for the president or other officials to grant exceptions in extreme situations - the "ticking bomb" scenario.

Bill has since changed his mind. Now he doesn't think there should be any exceptions in the law. Here's his latest:

... I think America’s policy should be to oppose torture, to honor the Geneva Conventions for several reasons. One is, it’s almost always counterproductive. If you beat somebody up, they’ll tell you what they want to hear. Two is, it, it really hurts us in the rest of the world and helps to recruit other terrorists. And thirdly, it makes our own people vulnerable to torture.

You know, there’s a one in a million chance that you might be alone somewhere, and you’re Jack Bauer on “24.” That’s the Jack Bauer example, right? It happens every season with Jack Bauer, but to—in the real world it doesn’t happen very much. If you have a policy which legitimizes this, it’s a slippery slope and you get in the kind of trouble we’ve been in here with Abu Ghraib, with Guantanamo, with lots of other examples.

And I’m not even sure what I said is right now. I think what happens is the honest truth is that Tim Russert, Bill Clinton, people filming this show, if we were the Jack Bauer person and it was six hours to the bomb or whatever, you don’t know what you would do, and you have to—but I think what our policy ought to be is to be uncompromisingly opposed to terror—I mean to torture, and that if you’re the Jack Bauer person, you’ll do whatever you do and you should be prepared to take the consequences. And I think the consequences will be imposed based on what turns out to be the truth. I think there are a lot of areas in life where you don’t. But I, I loved how she handled this whole thing. I guess you want to show the rest now.

MR. RUSSERT: But, but not [have a] formal exception.

MR. CLINTON: Yeah, I don’t think you should now. The more I think about it, and the more I have seen that, if you have any kind of formal exception, people just drive a truck through it, and they’ll say “Well, I thought it was covered by the exception.” I think, I think it’s better not to have one. And if you happen to be the actor in that moment which, as far as I know, has not occurred in my experience or President Bush’s experience since we’ve been really dealing with this terror, but I—you actually had the Jack Bauer moment, we call it, I think you should be prepared to live with the consequences. And yet, ironically, if you look at the show, every time they get the president to approve something, the president gets in trouble, the country gets in trouble. And when Bauer goes out there on his own and is prepared to live with the consequences, it always seems to work better. [Full transcript]

It is entirely possible Bill will change his mind again, and there is no guarantee his wife will think this way if she becomes president. Nevertheless, for now he has a far more reasonable and realistic torture policy than any candidate of either party has taken, other than Ron Paul.

What Clinton says about exceptions is absolutely true: give them an inch and they'll take a mile. That universal principle is the reason we have a Constitution that is not easily changed. President Bush, on the other hand, sought to grant blanket immunity for those who torture prisoners, all the while denying that they do any such thing - a claim we cannot verify since he steadfastly refuses to define what he means by "torture."

With such power in hand, it should be no surprise that some agents of the government will abuse it. Mr. Bush says we should just trust him, similar to the way we trusted him about Iraq having nuclear and chemical weapons. Sorry, sir. I won't be fooled twice. On this one, your predecessor is a lot closer to the right. You might want to listen to him.

Related posts:
Tortured Logic
Colin Powell on Guantanamo
Petraeus on Battlefield Ethics
Adventures in Fog
Defining Torture

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