THE FUNNY thing about lynch mobs is that they never see themselves as vigilantes or ideologues. They consider themselves avenging angels, righting wrongs and delivering a raw sort of justice.

Well, they're at it again.

The New York Times is at the front with the rope, ready to wrap ex-members of the Bush administration in a righteous noose. A recent editorial praised President Obama for overruling his own CIA director in releasing the so-called "Torture Memos" and demanded that he pursue an investigation into those who wrote the memos, interpreted the laws and executed the policies. A high-minded way of saying "string up the bastards."

But the Times is only leading the charge. There are many others in the mob out there, from the ACLU types who doggedly fought for the release of classified information despite the damage it would cause to our national-security interests to the Amnesty Internationalists sounding the drumbeat for a congressional investigation into "human- rights abuses" to the usual gaggle of anti-American polemicists who consider almost anything our government does to be beyond the pale.

Lynch mobs thrive on blood lust. They want to see people suffer, to watch their presumed enemies twist in the wind and pay a heavy price for whatever "sins" they've committed.

It's now become fashionable to accept, reflexively, that the enhanced interrogation procedures authorized by the past administration amount to torture. And that's because if you merely call something "torture" without actually looking closely enough to determine whether it fits that ominous description, you can score some major PR points with a squeamish public.

The word conjures up images of the Inquisition, of Hitler, Stalin and the killing fields of Cambodia. The mob knows this quite well, and doesn't hesitate to exploit the decency of the American public (and the naivete of some) by making a direct connection between legitimate attempts to protect our country and the sadism of Eichmann, Mengele, Pol Pot and - even though he's now our buddy - Castro.

The lynchers fight tooth and nail to make sure we don't see how effective and necessary certain interrogation procedures can be because it's a lot harder to paint the CIA and our military as monsters if their actions helped prevent another 9/11. Maybe that's why the memo issued by Obama's national intelligence director was censored.

Adm. Dennis Blair told colleagues in a private communiqué that "high value information came from interrogations" in which techniques banned by the current White House "were used and provided a deeper understanding of the Al Qa'ida organization that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists."

He also said, "I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given."

Not surprisingly, those comments didn't make it into the official statement he released last week. When questioned about that, Blair would only say, "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world."

And that's a perfect distillation of the Obama Doctrine, where we want so desperately for people to like us that we'll not only call sleep deprivation and the placement of insects in cells "torture," but will brand those who authorized it "torturers."

Obama has already bowed to pressure by stating that he could support a criminal investigation by the attorney general into Bush-era policies - although he's seemed to rule out prosecuting anyone in the CIA.

But then we have those who, like the Timers, believe that even those who followed the policies but had no hand in crafting them should also be subject to prosecution.

They raise the ghosts of Nuremberg by saying, "We have never been comfortable with the 'only following orders' excuse." Of course, that excuse was used by Nazis defending themselves against charges of genocide. CIA operatives and administration lawyers trying to protect innocent Americans from another terror attack shouldn't be lumped into the same category as homicidal maniacs.

But, to the lynchers, they all look alike. Here come the nooses. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.