Getting Osama Bin Laden: The Case Against Torture

Article by Doug Bandow.

After making Osama bin Laden U.S. Enemy Number One President George W. Bush botched the job. Yet officials from his administration are claiming credit for getting bin Laden. Torture maven John Yoo wrote that the recent raid “vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden’s door.”

President Bush should have focused on destroying al-Qaeda and suppressing the Taliban in the aftermath of September 11. Instead, he quickly turned away. He was too busy preparing for his foolish Iraq adventure to provide the forces necessary to capture bin Laden when the latter could have been trapped at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. By precipitously withdrawing resources from that country, the Bush administration tossed away any hope of achieving peace and stability.

Unfortunately, President Bush’s lengthy nation-building exercises in both Iraq and Afghanistan created more terrorists, even spawning a new al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq. As Michael Hirsh pointed out in National Journal, the two wars also resolved the tension created by bin-Laden’s insistence on attacking the “far enemy” of America while others in the organization preferred to focus on the “near enemy” of Arab states allied to America. President Bush made it easy for al-Qaeda.

But with President Barack Obama responsible for the operation which killed bin Laden, Republican uber-hawks needed something else to criticize: President Obama refuses to allow the torture of captives.

Congress has passed legislation and approved treaties outlawing torture. The executive branch prosecuted Japanese military officers for torturing Americans. Washington routinely criticizes other governments for employing torture. Nevertheless, the GOP torture caucus argues that Bush-era prisoner abuse enabled officials to track down bin Laden.

Assume for the moment that this is true. It still offers no compelling argument to torture.

Bin Laden was a moral monster, well deserving of his fate. But for all of his plotting, he does not appear to have achieved very much in recent years. Wrote Charles Fried, a former U.S. Solicitor General, and Gregory Fried, a philosophy professor: “Osama bin Laden was not the ticking bomb requiring immediate defusing, so familiar now from television dramas.” There may be hard cases, but this was not one of them.

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