Professor Kerr over at Volokh Conspiracy asks an important question that either reveals how irrational Americans are, or what hypocritical scum the American left is:
News of a U.S.-supported attack on a suspected Al-Qaeda operative meeting in Yemen reminds me of a curious dynamic in the public response to how the U.S. fights the war on terror: Killing Al-Qaeda suspects seems to be much less controversial than detaining and interrogating them.
Consider a hypothetical example. Imagine U.S. officials have reason to believe that an Al-Qaeda leader is in a house near the Pakistan border. Our intelligence indicates that the man is in the house with his wife and three children. Now imagine the U.S. authorities have two choices. First, they can send in a team of commandos and seize the Al-Qaeda leader and send him to Gitmo, where he will be detained and waterboarded. If they do that, his wife and children will not be seized, but rather will be let go. Alternatively, U.S. officials can order an airstrike that will just blow up the entire house to smithereens. Everyone in the house will be killed, including the Al-Qaeda leader, his wife and three children, and anyone else who happens to be inside or nearby.
What interests me is the U.S. public reaction to these options, assuming the press learns of and reports on what happened. My sense is that if the U.S. authorities take option one — that is, detaining the suspect and waterboarding him — there will be a tremendous public outcry. Waterboarding is torture, and it is a moral imperative that we do not torture, many people will say. And it will be important to a lot of people that the seized detainee has constitutional rights that entitle him to a hearing to determine the lawfulness of his detention, together with an appointed attorney.
But if authorities just blow the house up, well, I suspect not that many people would think twice about it. Waterboarding may be an outrage, but blowing a suspect to smithereens together with his wife and children, well, that’s just war. There’s no hearing or lawyers or constitutional rights, to be sure. But again, few people seem to mind.
I would argue that the difference is that the three prisoners that were waterboarded actually provided usable intelligence, which saved lives, and this was done on Bush's watch. It wasn't really a moral objection by most of the left--they were just upset that:
1. It worked, and saved lives.
2. It was a tool for attacking a Republican.
As some of the commenters over there point out, the left was never terribly upset about President Clinton's "extraordinary rendition" policies. The Communist Party USA and its fellow Western leftist political parties were always quite concerned about abuse of due process, mistreatment of prisoners, etc.--as long as it was happening outside the Communist bloc. Otherwise? Who cares?