Interesting long article in the NYT about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, otherwise known as KSM, the operational commander of 9/11, and a mass murderer who wanted to murder even more.
I remember wondering at the time where he'd disappeared to. So now we know: it was Poland, because the Poles were eager to help, but also because in Poland there wasn't much chance of anyone on the outside being an al-Qaeda supporter who might try to spring him.
The important part of the article, to my mind, is its descriptions of the deliberations in the CIA on procedure, and specifically on the use of torture. They were suddenly faced with a brand new but exceedingly dangerous new challenge; they didn't have the faintest idea how to deal with it and weren't set up to do so; failure to do the job meant lots of additional innocents would be murdered. So they improvised. As we know in retrospect, some of the improvisations were seriously wrong, and they seem to have been aware of this even at the time, but not aware enough, or not confident enough in their ability to succeed without the torture.
Seen from the perspective of a historian rather than an ideologue, that seems pretty much right to me. Warfare is a nasty business even when you're on the right side of it. The stakes are high, the dangers are acute, and no matter what you do, at least some things will inevitably go wrong. Life and death decisions must be made NOW, not later, because if they're made later people will die first. So it's a combination of trial and error, measuring success vs. failure on the fly, while always trying to adhere to an overarching moral code that directs some sides and is totally irrelevant to others.
The advocates of the moral code are right when they demand that their side get it right sooner, not later, and their watchdog role really is important, because the warriors must by definition focus on the goal of saving the lives of their people and don't always take full account of the moral implications. The role of the warriors, however, is at least as crucial as that of the watchdogs, since if they don't do their job innocents will die. A healthy democratic society manages to balance these things, at least most of the time, or with reasonable success. That's what makes them so different from their enemies, who are often bothered by being foiled, but lack moral qualms. The watchdogs in the democracies must always remember that, too, else their moral equivalence blind them to the utter necessity of waging the war.
Finally, unlike what the political ideologues like to shout all the time, the story being told here isn't about the Bush administration in any immediate way. It's conceivable that had the top been more aware of the moral issues things might have been done somewhat differently, but the discussions for or against torture described here weren't taking place at the White House, they were unfolding at a much lower level, where the war against the Islamsts was being waged.