The answers Obama gave to two torture questions last night were very good. He explained why the United States doesn't torture, that while torture can be successful tactically as an overall strategy, it's counterproductive because of the way it affects our relationships abroad and our ability to win hearts and minds across the Middle East. But, to borrow a phrase, he didn't answer the "central question" which I think Jay Bookman gets to here:

Publicly, Obama claims America has changed course. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order halting “enhanced interrogations.” But that did not restore the rule of law; it weakened it further. If one executive order can ban torture, as Obama claims, then another such order can restore it, simple as that.

Torture is not a "policy difference." It is a crime. If no one at all is held to account, in the future, it will be a policy difference. The United States position on torture will be subject to the whims of which administration is in power. The next administration to torture will be able to argue that torture is a policy difference and will point to this administration's failure to prosecute anyone for it as proof. The next time we torture, those pointing to the prosecutions of men for waterboarding will have to face torture supporters who will point to the lack of action by this administration for support.

Meanwhile, it's disappointing, but not surprising that some in the press have accepted the right's framing of the torture question. Last night Mark Knoller, apparently a fan of 24, asked this question

[I]f part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?

This is a leading question, designed to get a specific answer. If Obama simply says no, he's too weak to defend the country. If he says yes, he's admitted he is willing to break the law and conceded that torture will cure cancer and male pattern baldness. The question assumes that torture will yield the information needed, and it plainly disregards the law. It is a pro-torture question, and it's really unfortunate that we've gotten to the point where some people in the press are encouraging the executive to break the law rather than holding him to account when he does.

-- A. Serwer

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