We must break the law to defend the law.

In its editorial today, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board demonstrates its abandonment of liberty in favor of authoritarianism and reverence for acting tough. It’s not necessary to go beyond the opening to know that the editors have lost all intellectual credibility:

Democrats welcomed Michael Mukasey as a “consensus choice” for Attorney General only weeks ago, but incredibly his confirmation is now an open question. The judge’s supposed offense is that he has refused to declare “illegal” a single interrogation technique that the CIA has used on rare occasions against mass murderers.

Why the mock scare quotes on illegal? If it’s just one interrogation technique, presumably among many, why worry if it gets singled out and prohibited? Assuming that waterboarding amounts to torture, does it matter how many times it’s been used, or how awful the alleged mass murders committed by the tortured?

But the editors can’t help themselves:

… [All of the Democratic Presidential candidates would] disqualify a man of impeccable judicial temperament and credentials merely because he’s willing to give U.S. interrogators the benefit of the legal doubt before he has top-secret clearance.

Since when do government officials get the benefit of the doubt before prisoners? Last I checked, the government must prove guilt. Until it does, the accused is presumed innocent. It’s quite the anti-conservative stance to trust government first and only.

But it’s possible to give some credibility to the stated position. Judge Mukasey hasn’t reviewed the documents. That means he can’t and shouldn’t rule on whether or not specific U.S. interrogators have engaged in torture. That would be for later inquiry. However, it is possible to state whether or not waterboarding as an interrogation technique constitutes torture, absent any details or facts from alleged instances of its use.

Could there be a clearer demonstration of why voters don’t trust Democrats with national security? In the war against al Qaeda, interrogation and electronic surveillance are our most effective weapons. Yet Democrats have for years waged a guerrilla war against both of these tools, trying to impose procedural and legal limits that can only reduce their effectiveness. Judge Mukasey is merely collateral damage in this larger effort.

The editors are no doubt aware that the question is not the validity of using interrogation and electronic surveillance to uncover threats to the United States. The misdirection is telling about their character, but I’m more concerned with why they would be so opposed to procedural and legal limits. Effectiveness over costs? If that’s your position, be honest and agitate for a police state. You’ll argue what you want without falsely smearing opponents.

There are a few more informative points in the editorial:

Most important, [Mukasey’s] discretion serves the American people by helping to keep our enemies in some doubt about what they will face if they are captured.

Right, because if we say we don’t torture, then they won’t waste time preparing for torture. They’ll spend more time planning ways to kill every American. That’s time they now spend figuring out ways to avoid folding after being tortured interrogated. See, being forthright that we’re moral and humane would mean we lose.

What’s really at stake here is whether U.S. officials are going to have the basic tools required to extract information from America’s enemies.

U.S. officials have always had sophisticated (i.e. not basic) interrogation tools required to extract information. Those sophisticated tools were developed using our intelligence and reliance on the credibility of the information extracted. But the might-is-right crowd have dismissed intelligence in favor of brute force. When you’re too stupid to understand that sophisticated psychological techniques are more effective, you begin to think that torture is good and should be considered a basic tool.

But about that information:

Yet those interrogations have generated “thousands of intelligence reports.”

Thousands of intelligence reports… hmmm. How many of those proved accurate and how many proved to be a say-anything-please-make-the-torture-stop fiction that wasted U.S. resources in pursuit of a dead-end?

As for waterboarding, it is mostly a political sideshow. The CIA’s view seems to be that some version of waterboarding is effective in breaking especially tough cases quickly. Press reports say it has been used only against a few high-value al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Zubaydah.

The CIA does not dictate what is and is not a legal interrogation method in the United States, alleged effectiveness notwithstanding. But that doesn’t matter, right? We only use it on deserving individuals. See, those who have been convicted of crimes in a court of law deserve it. Moral relativism, anyone?

It is possible to be serious on the threat facing our nation from enemies without getting hysterical and dismissing the reason our country exists as a quaint relic of the past.