This is not a hard question!

I reject the entire premise of today's Times story:

Last week’s release of long-secret Justice Department interrogation
memorandums has given rise to starkly opposing narratives about what,
if anything, was gained by the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and other physical pressure to shock and intimidate Qaeda operatives.

Senior Bush administration officials, led by Vice President Dick Cheney
and cheered by many Congressional Republicans, are fighting a
rear-guard action in defense of their record. Only by using the
harshest methods, they insist, did the intelligence agency get the
information it needed to round up Qaeda killers and save thousands of
American lives…

By contrast, Mr. Obama and most of his top aides have argued that the
use of those methods betrayed American values — and anyway, produced
unreliable information. Those are a convenient pair of opinions, of
course: the moral balancing would be far trickier if the C.I.A. methods
were demonstrated to have been crucial in disrupting major plots.

Damn it, we could always keep the country safer from external threats if we chose to live in a militarized state that nullified individual liberties.  The point is that is inimical to the values of democracy.  Could we have way less crime if police did not have to respect the Bill of Rights, especially the 4th amendment?  Of course!  But that's not the country we want to live in.  You don't see a lot of people moving to China so that they can be safer from crime by sacrificing essential liberties.  Thus, even if the torture did make us safer, that is simply not a justification in a democracy.  A hugely ignored point in almost all these "analyses" as well, is the fact that just because torture produced certain actual intelligence is no proof at all that morally appropriate interrogation methods would not have produced the same good intelligence without bringing all the false information that is part and parcel with torture.  It is a well-known fact that torture victims tell their torturers whatever they think will make the torture stop, whether true or not. 

Now, as for why we don't torture in a democracy, Andrew Sullivan had a brilliant post on this recently.  Please read the whole thing.  Nonetheless, my favorite part (actually, most of the post):

The assertion of total power through unchecked violence – outside
the Constitution, beyond the reach of the law (apart from legal memos
from hired hacks instructed to retroactively redefine torture into
'legality') – will be seen in retrospect as the key defining theory of
Bush conservatism. It ended with torture. Why? Because reality may
differ from ideology; and when it does, it is vital to create reality to support ideology. And so torture creates reality by coercing "facts" from broken bodies and minds.

This
is how torture is always a fantastic temptation for those in power,
even if they first use it out of what they think is necessity or good
intentions: it provides a way for them to coerce reality into
the shape they desire. This is also why it is so uniquely dangerous.
Because it creates a closed circle of untruth, which is then used to
justify more torture, which generates more "truth." This is the Imaginationland some of us have been so concerned about.

The Western anathema on torture began as a way to ensure the survival of truth.

And that is the root of the West's entire legal and constitutional
system. Remove a secure way to discover the truth – or create a system
that can manufacture it or render it indistinguishable from lies – and
the entire system unravels. That's why in the West suspects are
innocent before being found guilty; and that's why in the West even
those captured in wartime have long been accorded protection from
forced confessions. Because it creates a world where truth is always
the last priority and power is always the first.

This is not a policy difference. It is a foundational element of Western civilization.

As long as Republicans continue to defend torture they shame themselves and place themselves on the wrong side of history.

 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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