Responding to a “stupid” critique of his May 1 column defending the use of terror in “ticking timebomb” scenarios, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer (5/15/09) asserts that there has too been a real-life example of such a situation:
On October 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel’s existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: “If we’d been so careful to follow the  Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held.”
Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin’s moral calculus.
Krauthammer’s column leaves out a key point of his argument, which is that Hamas was threatening to kill the captive unless Israel released 200 prisoners–that’s the ticking time bomb.
It’s certainly true that the fact that the Israeli prisoner was killed does not change Rabin’s, or Krauthammer’s, moral calculus. Because the calculation is this: The value of the life of one individual from a group we identify with so far outweighs the human rights of a disfavored group that even the chance of saving him justifies torture.
Hamas made the same calculation from the opposite perspective: For them, threatening the life of one Israeli was worth it if it meant a chance of freedom for 200 Palestinians. And though Krauthammer is sarcastic about people who charge him with “moral deficiencies,” I don’t think his pro-torture ethics give him much ability to explain to them why they’re wrong.