We caught Mohammed, so why not torture him?

Wednesday, March 12, 2003 at 1:00am

OK, we've got Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, "the CEO" of al Qaeda, in our custody. We know he's the brains behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the USS Cole, and the Sept. 11 massacres. He may even have slit the throat of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Who knows what information he has on future terrorist operations? And if anybody knows Osama bin Laden's home number, he does. But how to make him talk?

Torture is the easy answer. And if you're talking about psychological torture, I'm all for it. Keep bright lights on in his cell. Don't let the bum get any sleep. Bombard him with bubbly Lawrence Welk music. Make him watch The Osbournes. And if you really want to get cruel and sadistic, make him listen to Rush Limbaugh. He'll talk.

But if you're talking about physical torture, no way. Of course, it's tempting. I'd like to go over there personally and yank his fingernails out. But forget it. We're not going to go there, and we shouldn't.

For one thing, torture may not work. Inspired by Islamic heroes, and trained never to talk if captured, Mohammed may stay silent forever. Muslims tell the story of Bilal, a black slave of the Prophet Mohammed who was dragged over hot sand and burning coals by infidels to force him to renounce his association with the prophet. He refused.

Another problem: Information gathered by torture is not necessarily reliable. While some rare captives may crack and sing under pressure, experience shows that more of them will start confessing anything

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