04/16/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Wait a Minute -- If It's a War, Aren't You Supposed to Kill Them?

The Sunday yak shows have been abuzz with Republicans, from Dick Cheney on down (up?), hammering on their poll-tested theme of the moment: that the Obama administration, in choosing a criminal trial for the underpants un-bomber, just "doesn't get the fact that we're at war." The latter condition, they contend, requires military tribunals after some enhanced interrogation by...some enhanced interrogators.

Two points, both of which Democrats seem, as usual, too timorous to make: First, as Jane Mayer amply documents in her book The Dark Side, the actual interrogations undertaken by the military and CIA during the Bush-Cheney years were amateur operations, run under a protocol developed by a couple of hotshot psychologists neither of whom had ever actually run a single interrogation, as opposed to the vast experience of FBI agents with the task.

And, second, there's this gem from Sunday's Washington Post: When the Obama administration, given the choice, opts to kill a high-value target, they now come under criticism because they didn't choose to detain and question him instead.

Last time I looked, if it's a war and you find an enemy on the battlefield, you kill him. That's pretty much the definition of what war is. You detain those who choose to surrender. Opting in the first instance to detain and interrogate someone, on the other hand, is what you're doing if you're running a criminal investigation. Oops.

UPDATE, FEB 15: Double oops. Dick Cheney needs to start lecturing the Australians, whose mindset is all like criminal law when it comes to dealing with terrorist plots: