In the Washington Post ‘Opinions’ section on May 5, Harvard Law School Professor Charles Fried and his son, Suffolk University Philosophy Department Chair Gregory Fried, discussed the killing of Osama bin Laden. The authors argued that torture apologists are undermining what the pair call a “great victory” for the U.S. by calling into question the circumstances under which bin Laden was felled during the firefight in his compound in Pakistan—a “risible” notion, by the authors’ standards.

“[T]he same apologists who applauded President George W. Bush’s authorization of torture … are working to stain this great triumph. They argue that but for their barbaric treatment of detainees through 2003, we would never have found our man.” The Frieds further contend: “Those who defend the use of torture and who are using bin Laden’s killing to prove their point prove just the opposite. However vile, bin Laden was not the armed-nuclear-bomb-hidden-in-downtown-L.A. scenario of Jack Bauer’s ‘24.’”

Charles and Gregory Fried are the authors of “Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror.” (W. W. Norton & Company 2010).

Torture apologists stain triumph over bin Laden

By Charles Fried and Gregory Fried

The killing of Osama bin Laden after a fierce firefight in his Abbottabad compound is a great victory for our military and intelligence forces and for our civilian leadership. But the handwringing about whether it looked as though bin Laden was reaching for a gun or suicide belt, as if this were some who-is-the fastest-gun-in-the-West movie, and about whether we violated Pakistani sovereignty by going in after him is risible.

As the code of war that Abraham Lincoln promulgated in 1863 — the first anywhere — made clear: “military necessity admits of all direct destruction of life or limb of armed enemies . . . it allows of the capturing of . . . every enemy of importance to the hostile government.” Yet Lincoln’s code also said that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty . . . nor of torture.”

In this all civilized men and women agree: Torture is condemned by American law, international law and by the pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2005 it was condemned by Congress at the instance of, among others, Sen. John McCain. Now, the same apologists who applauded President George W. Bush’s authorization of torture — and make no mistake, waterboarding is torture — are working to stain this great triumph. … Read the full op-ed on the Washington Post online

Read a related story from the Harvard Law Bulletin and watch a video interview with Charles and Gregory Fried