I don't think it's at all surprising that conservatives have settled into arguing that "we were right about waterboarding" as a way to deflect having to acknowledge that the President's success in finding and killing Osama Bin Laden has wrecked their "we're the only ones who can fight terrorism" chest-thumping.
It's probably equally unsurprising that progressives have responded yet again with their two favorite responses: "you people are monsters" and "waterboarding had nothing to do with it."
The old and familiar contours of the argument don't mean much to me (even as I come down, firmly, with the progressives on this one: you people really are monsters for wanting to torture people, and waterboarding yielded precisely nothing useful); this debate won't end anytime soon, which I'll get to in a minute. What's been kind of interesting to me are the wrinkles on both sides among some of the key players.
One wrinkle is that some of the Bush players are hedging on just whether "harsh" interrogations actually produced information that led to identifying Bin Laden's compound. While trying to claim credit for working hard to locate him, Rumsfeld, Rove and others were surprisingly cautious in suggesting that things like waterboarding actually led to usable intelligence.
Just as curious, the White House seems reluctant to simply take the idea off the table. Simply saying "no information from 'harsh' interrogations led to Bin Laden" would seem like an easy call, even if it wasn't entirely true. Instead the White HOuse and National Security teams have hedged by saying "no one piece of information" was that crucial. That's hard to dispute... but leaves the door open to suggest that continuing to torture people is somehow okay, if it yields useful intelligence.
As I said, it's not surprising that Republicans want, even now, to make the use of waterboarding and other techniques perfectly reasonable responses to terrorists and their threats. As well, they've continued a thread of trying to make waterboarding and such "not torture" by dressing it up as "harsh" and similar, somehow excusable terms. We don't torture people... we're just looking for answers. And if what we do works... how can it be torture? Or wrong?
More distressing, as the story of the Bin Laden compound raid and assasination unfolds, is the sense that most Americans, including many lefties (and a lot of prominent liberals), are planning to ask no questions about the debatable "right" we had to go into Pakistan in the first place. Pakistan has protested, for years now, about American drone attacks on terrorist and Taliban leaders, and has complained even louder about this foray onto their soverign turf, with no warning and no permission. Further, nothing that continues to drip out about the "fire fight" that night suggests anything like a mission to find Osama Bin Laden and actually "bring him to justice" - that is, actually capture him for the prupose of a trial. Instead, we are learning that the murder of an unarmed man, awoken in the middle of the night, amounts to "bringing someone to justice."
The debates about torture won't go away because, with this raid and this killing, Democrats have, in their way, gone all in to prove themselves as tough as Republicans when it comes to fighting terrorism. And, I'm convinced, probably successfully as well. Even in less than a week, it's clear that savvy conservatives are realizing the power of a successful midnight raid to kill Osama Bin Laden, and just how effectively it may eviscerate their 2012 election plans (what little hope they were clinging to, anyway). And so, now they're trying to shift the discussion back to the kind of extremes that they think make Democrats wilt - torture! Guantanamo! whatever it takes!
Even so, I don't think lefties, or the Democratic Party elite, are tied to an anti-terrorism policy that's exactly like what we've lived through under George Bush. What they, and we, are all tied to, even now, is the mess the Bush team left in their wake - the people who were tortured. The people we still hold at Gunatanamo. The things we did that we probably shouldn't have, and the things we continue to do as a result. These things can't be wished away... and to a considerable extent, they can't be undone. And we're not looking any better as a nation for just how little we wonder about the decency of shooting a man in the dead of night... and calling it justice. Even a man as monstrous as Osama Bin Laden.