The Tribute Vice Pays to Virtue

The debate over enhanced interrogation has gotten sidetracked by a remarkable tale of hypocrisy and hubris. What was supposed to be the ultimate “gotcha” issue to bury the Bush administration has now become a tale of intrigue and public character — or lack thereof — focused on the would-be inquisitors. Jack Kelly observes:

It is shabby enough when politicians develop amnesia for partisan reasons, as when Sens. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton forgot why it was they had voted to authorize war with Iraq. But what Ms. Pelosi did was much worse. She was proposing to ruin the lives of lawyers who had acted in good faith by rendering opinions with which she recorded no objection to at the time. She wasn’t just trying to criminalize a policy disagreement. She was trying to criminalize ex post facto a policy she’d agreed with.
[. . .]

It is ironic that the Bush administration lawyers — who sincerely believed they were defending the country in a time of peril — can now be seen in stark contrast to their Democratic inquisitors. The latter, we have learned, either thought what the lawyers had advised was wrong (yet lacked the courage to speak up) — or actually agreed with them, but then lost their nerve when they thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the public would recoil against those who crafted extraordinary interrogation methods to fight an extraordinary war.

And the president — what does he believe? It’s hard to fathom. He said he wanted to look forward but then seemed to egg on the truth inquiry. And then decided not to. He agreed to release highly inflammatory photos, but then maybe not. What is the criteria by which he makes the decisions? It’s a blur. Not a profile in courage.

But one thing we know: those who urged the president and Democratic Congress to conduct a witch hunt gave some awful advice. In the future, one hopes that decision-makers will keep that in mind and appropriately discount their insights and recommendations.