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From Supporting the IRA to Torturing Al Qaida

During the heyday of the Irish Republican Army, Representative Peter King (R-NY) was a vocal supporter of it here in the US:

The politician once called the IRA "the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland," he was banned from the BBC by British censors for his pro-IRA views, and he refused to denounce the IRA when one of its mortar bombs killed nine Northern Irish police officers...

He forged links with leaders of the IRA and Sinn Fein in Ireland, and in America he hooked up with Irish Northern Aid, known as Noraid, a New York based group that the American, British, and Irish governments often accused of funneling guns and money to the IRA. At a time when the IRA's murder of Lord Mountbatten and its fierce bombing campaign in Britain and Ireland persuaded most American politicians to shun IRA-support groups, Mr. King displayed no such inhibitions. He spoke regularly at Noraid protests and became close to the group's publicity director, the Bronx lawyer Martin Galvin, a figure reviled by the British.

Mr. King's support for the IRA was unequivocal. In 1982, for instance, he told a pro-IRA rally in Nassau County: "We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry."

By the mid-1980s, the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic were openly hostile to Mr. King. On one occasion, a judge threw him out of a Belfast courtroom during the murder trial of IRA men because, in the judge's view, "he was an obvious collaborator with the IRA." When he attended other trials, the police singled him out for thorough body searches.

Now times have changed. Not only is Representative King anti-terror, he's all for torture:

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said: "I just think John McCain is wrong on this [requiring all US government agencies, including the CIA, to fully respect Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions]. If we capture bin Laden tomorrow and we have to hold his head under water to find out when the next attack is going to happen, we ought to be able to do it."
The problem, Mr. King, is that the legitimization of torture is a very slippery slope. If it's okay to torture bin Laden, surely it's okay to torture his lieutenants? If it's okay to torture his lieutenants, surely it's okay to torture his operatives? Pretty soon you're picking up people far from the battlefield, people with no proven connection to terrorism, based solely on testimony supplied under torture, by people willing to say anything to make it stop, and then you're torturing these newly-captured people as well. And that, it would seem, is exactly what the US has been doing. And that is what Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham are trying to stop.

On reflection, I suppose it's not surprising that Mr. King is a supporter of torture. Clearly he's from the ends-justify-the-means camp. If you think that the UK rule of Northern Ireland is wrong (a reasonable position on its own), then anything that might make it stop is justified: murdering Lord Mountbatten, mortaring police officers, attempting the assassination of Prime Minister Thatcher, whatever it takes. If you think that Al Qaida is a threat to the US (which it obviously is), then again, anything to stop them is justified, including torture such as waterboarding:

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources [former and current intelligence officers and supervisors], CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

"The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.


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