Compare that to the American way of taking people out. We outsource. As often as not, we employ private contractors. When you think about it, that's nothing new. A generation ago, the government would simply ask some Mafia figure to send a lone hit man to do our unsavory jobs.

From our safe distance, the dirty work can seem so sanitary. But the moral issues are messy, particularly for those who can only see the world divided in a battle of good versus evil. It's a lot more complicated than that, as we see in the agonizing debate over the Bush administration Justice Department attorneys who concocted legal rationalizations for torture, rendition and who knows what else.

At the behest of their patron Dick Cheney, John Yoo, now a law professor, and Jay Bybee, who has become a federal judge called "Your Honor,” enthusiastically stretched the limits with their memos that brushed aside human-rights traditions and common decency with their twisted logic. They also swept away any pretense that the U.S. was a country that, by definition, always stood on the high road.

After months of convoluted hand-wringing, a task force has finally decided, in effect, that as crazy as their logic seemed to be, punishing Yoo and Bybee would be inappropriate second-guessing. A subtext is the contention that brutality is necessary when the nation's survival is at stake.

To sterilize things, our propagandists come up with neutral terms in post-9/11 times like "enhanced interrogation" instead of "torture," or the spooky "termination with extreme prejudice" instead of "murder.” It becomes so much easier to stomach. It's all a James Bond movie. Or Maxwell Smart. Killing capers.

The latest one was taped in Dubai, with a hit squad about the size of a movie crew. Apparently they were successful, so don't be surprised if there's a sequel. There always is.

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