Why Debate Torture Beyond Morality?

Why Debate Torture Beyond Morality?

Does America stand for anything?  If torture is criminal and immoral then why does it matter whether it works or not?   Does a collateral damage analysis change the depraved means of torture to justify the ends?

If morality is the foundation of law—not expedience or convenience—then avoiding another attack on the United States cannot justify torture of prisoners or enemy combatants.

Born out of a revolution, the United States is a country organized around an ideology which includes a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society.  As G.K. Chesterton put it:  “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.  That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence.”

In 1954, with the encouragement of President Eisenhower, Congress changed the Pledge of Allegiance to say that the United States of America is one nation “under god”—presumably, which ever god you’ve chosen.   So, in keeping with this implied morality and the stated values of “liberty and justice for all” it follows that sanctioned torture signals the American descent into depravity and corruption. Simply said, torture is a moral sin and an appalling crime under any circumstance—even for America.

As claimed by a famous founding father John Adams, our nation is “a government of law, and not of men.”  Therefore, ignoring the obligations of International law as well as our own—even under the dubious rational of avoiding the possibility of a greater harm—makes clear to the world that Americans are criminal and immoral.

Ignoring the efficacy of torture, why would we expect the world to accept the “ticking time bomb” scenario as justification for torture a decade after 9/11?

Opening the question now for public discussion about whether we should allow torture under some circumstances seems to serve the agenda of making brutality look justifiable and providing cover to those seeking to avoid accountability.  How much farther along the continuum of claimed necessity or possible expedience to avoid a prospective harm is needed before the inhumanity of torture becomes heroic?

Senator John McCain, a Vietnam Era prisoner of war himself, in a letter to fellow members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding the Committee’s comprehensive report on the CIA’s post-September 11, 2001 detention and interrogation practices said:

“It is my sincerest hope that we Americans, for all of our many disagreements, can nonetheless manage to agree that torture of the kind described in this report is unworthy of our national honor and should no longer be a matter for discussion. It is my hope that we can reach a consensus in this country that we will never again engage in these horrific abuses, and that the mere suggestion of doing so should be ruled out of our political discourse, regardless of which party holds power.”

Importantly, President Obama’s decision not to support a national commission to investigate the counterterrorism programs of the George W. Bush administration and his own subsequent lack of transparency, projects a clear basis for continuing international mistrust.  What is being protected—certainly not the values of America.

The President’s purported justification—that America needs to look forward not backward—ignores the real damage to our global image and reputation.  It undermines the values upon which America stands.164546_138689259524964_100001516717448_242939_6604474_n[1]


Now that confirmation of the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees which violated U.S. laws and international treaties obligations are in the public domain by virtue of the nonpartisan review of The Constitutional Project, the inference becomes reasonable that irreparable wrongs are being concealed, if not in effect sanctioned, by the inaction on the part of the Obama administration to declassify the Senate’s own investigation.

The Constitutional Project’s 11-member Task Force on Detainee Treatment co-chaired by Asa Hutchinson—Bush’s own undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security—found it “indisputable” that the George W. Bush administration engaged in torture.

The published 577-page report of The Project—conducted without the power of subpoena—concluded that never before in U.S. history has there been “the kind of considered and detailed discussion that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”

While our legacy media may be more concerned with breaking news and fear may now have desensitized the ethical concerns of many Americans toward the findings of this Project, it is not likely that the friends and families of these render-to-torture prisoners, now held at Guantanamo for more than a decade will soon forget what America has shown the entire world.

There was an opportunity for Obama to restore the integrity of American values in the eyes of our global neighbors.  That missed opportunity and the forced feeding of more than 100 prisoners now starving themselves in protest to their circumstances may have increase the resolve of some around the world to retaliate—only time will tell.  It seems unlikely that sanctioning torture will somehow improve our nation’s prospects for safety more than a genuine measure of demonstrated accountability.

Beyond the issue of morality, whether America should torture is a bogus question even if it did work because as former military interrogator Matthew Alexander explains, torture “leads to all sorts of false claims and wasted time.”

The efficacy of torture for ethical thinkers, lawyers and serious interrogators like Alexander is that the issue itself ignores many years of moral progress and legal thinking.  Even if it does on occasion work, torture is bad for our soldiers who will be tortured by others and it’s bad for those asked to torture.

Another highly skilled FBI interrogator Joe Navarro was noted as saying, “I only need three things.  If you give me three things, I will get whatever someone has to say, and I will do it without breaking the law. First of all, I need a quiet room.  Second, I want to know what the rules are, because I don’t want to get in trouble.  And third, I need enough time to become that person’s best and only friend.  If you give me those three conditions, I will get whatever that person has to say, and I will get it effectively and quickly and safely and within the terms of the law.”

There is no evidence within the public record that useful information was gained from going to the dark side according to Brigadier General David Irvine—a point of view corroborated by Sen. McCain.  According to Brig. Gen. Irvine, when the policies were developed that led to the dark side, many of the people involved in formulating those policies had no experience with interrogations.

Despite the amount of information now publicly available, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6000-page report remains classified and unfortunately, the Obama administration remains unwilling to declassify the report—another missed opportunity to mend our transgressions and demonstrate the values of America. 73039_1617968201756_1012900961_31761596_2825865_n[1]


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  • First, why should we care about international concerns. Most countries would not be around or would be living in starvation of not for the United States. They need and depend on us. They should be concerned about what we think. Secondly, we are not alone in the torture business. Britain, France, and every other western nation uses some form of torture. The only difference is their people know how to keep secrets. Americans are blabber mouths. Last, define torture? There is no real definition of torture, except maiming. If you do not have a universal concept or definition you cannot condemn or condone something.

  • Peter: The answer to your first question--morality. Your second question---morality.

    And there most definately is a definition of torture.

    I've address your question about why we should concern ourselves with international concerns. Did you actually read the piece?

    "Even if it does on occasion work, torture is bad for our soldiers who will be tortured by others and it’s bad for those asked to torture."

    If Britain or France practice torture it surely does not make the practice more viable or acceptable.

    As a nation we often involve ourselves in human rights issues. How can we possibly be taken seriously in asking others to do the same without walking the walk?

    For those of us who served in the military--USMC1970-72--torture is unacceptable.

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