You don't expect writers on the left to consider torture as a way to make a possible terrorist talk. But Michael Crowley of the New Republic recently floated the question of "how hard" the interrogations of domestic-terror suspect Najibullah Zazi should be (background from the Wire here and here) if doing so could potentially thwart a larger, possibly deadlier conspiracy still in motion:

How hard are the feds working Zazi for information about possible would-be terrorists inside the U.S. right now? How hard should they be working him? I keep leaning towards one conclusion--then imagining how I would feel about that conclusion if a bomb kills someone I know on the New York subway next week.
Isn't the torture debate supposed to be over, at least on the left? Didn't articles such as Andrew Sullivan's heartfelt plea in The Atlantic to move beyond "harsh interrogations" have any impact? Crowley's suggestion is partly a provocation to test this resolve. So far, writers on the left have refused to take the bait, arguing that even if this were a "ticking bomb" scenario, torturing Zazi would not be justified.

Here's the debate:
  • Torture Would Hurt a Terror Case in Court, writes Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker. "[T]he way cases get made is through the hard information provided by the kind of investigative work that the feds are doing in this case. A rough interrogation of Zazi at this point would be both immoral and counterproductive...But it's difficult for me to see how a 'hard' interrogation of Zazi at this point would do anything but hurt the government's case--in the courtroom and beyond."
  • But What If Worse Conspirators Remain at Large?, rebuts Michael Crowley, playing "devil's advocate" in a follow-up to his own post at the New Republic. This is an important, real-life case where we can "stress test" our convictions about torture, Crowley argues. "[E]ven some mainstream Democrats have argued for an implicit wink-wink exception in 'ticking bomb' cases...I ride the subways these guys may have been planning to attack and I would like to be quite sure we've found all of them."
  • This Debate Should Be Over, Period, argues Adam Serwer at the American Prospect. "Once you've accepted the premise that torture is a magic bullet, the conclusion when it fails is going to be that we simply didn't torture as much as we should have. From now on, are we going to have a debate over whether or not to violate the law every single time there's news of a potential terrorist attack?