The Senate report on Bush administration torture reminds me how awful this period was. The perpetrators’ defense of torture leads me to state my own straightforward views, based on my morality and readings.

Torture is wrong. It is evil. It makes the victims suffer abominable physical treatment and emotional and moral outrage that the physical suffering is being intentionally inflicted personally, face to face, by another human being under some form of institutional permission. The literature shows that torture inflicts permanent psychological and often physical harm. It is unconstitutional for good reason. Americans should not torture.

Likewise torture turns the perpetrators into evil doers. Studies show that those who are told to torture either resist and pay an institutional price for disloyalty or they do it and become corrupted into believing it was the right thing to do.  The entire hierarchy gets caught up in defending the indefensible. The institutional integrity is damaged or destroyed. The nation that harbors torturers can not take any moral high ground and is likely to lose global influence.

The rationales for torture are bogus. First is the argument that it works. There is absolutely no good evidence of that. The CIA and Cheney defenses cite no examples, only self serving and unprovable conclusions that torture of one or two of the over 100 people we tortured provided useful information.  To the contrary every study shows that the words of someone being tortured are unreliable. Did they really believe after 182 water boarding episodes with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that the 183rd would be useful? Other methods of interrogation work much better. Ask any expert.

Even if torture worked it would still be wrong. Expediency does not justify heinous acts. We wouldn’t torture US citizens even if it worked. 

Second, some people argue that terrorists deserve to be tortured because, well, they are terrorists.  They attacked us, the argument goes, and they deserve what they get. Revenge may inspire reprisals around the world and some of our fellow citizens follow that primitive  impulse but that is no basis for our national policy.

Moreover that argument consumes itself in hysterical illogic. Who exactly determines who is a terrorist who thus deserves to be tortured?  Justice and interrogation are messy. Just because someone is apprehended on suspicion of terrorism does not mean that person is guilty or has useful information. Indeed about a quarter of the victims of US “enhanced interrogation,”  aka torture, were subsequently released as mistakenly apprehended. How satisfying can revenge be when taken against innocents?

If you still want to accept torture as an American practice, try imagining this. What if you or a loved one were held wrongly as a suspect? What if you were nearly drowned and subjected to other brutal acts of torture? Would you still find it be acceptable?

Let’s be clear. Torture is an abomination. Anyone who supports it is a facilitator. This goes certainly for our former vice president Cheney and various CIA officials. We might be able to pardon or forgive the perpetrators. But we should never condone torture.

2 thoughts on “Torture

  1. As you say, “Even if torture worked it would still be wrong.” And in John McCain’s words recently: “The major question is it’s not about interrogation and what they got….It’s about us and what kind of a country we were and what we are and what we will be.”


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