There are those who sincerely believe that the use of torture is sometimes justified in obtaining vital intelligence. But that position is undermined by the reality that information gained under such duress seldom can be trusted.
This week, a nonpartisan, 577-page report concluded that it is “indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” in the aftermath of 9/11 and that our country’s “highest officials” were responsible. That’s not something any Americans should be proud of.
The report, the result of a prolonged study by an 11-member panel sponsored by the Constitution Project, an advocacy group, acknowledged that there has been brutality by our side in every war America has fought, but that never before had there been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions 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 detainees in our custody.”
To the extent the subject of torture has been debated in the United States since 9/11, it has been largely along party lines. Republicans have tended to defend (or even deny) it, while Democrats have been far more inclined to criticize it and to demand that the Bush administration “come clean” on the issue and face the consequences.
Therefore, it is significant that the report issued this week is endorsed by Republicans and Democrats. That fact alone suggests the national debate over the use of torture may be poised to move into a new and more promising phase, one that should emphasize that, as a tactic, torture simply doesn’t work well enough to justify its use.
The task force was led by two former congressmen, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat James R. Jones. It should be noted, however, that it did not have access to classified records.
The Senate Intelligence Committee did have such access when it prepared its 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record on torture, but that report has not been made public.
The authors of the newly released report worry that “as long as the debate continues, so too, does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture.”
They conclude that there is “no justification” for the use of torture and that the government’s participation in the practice “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.”
The authors of the report found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that torture produced useful information that could not have been obtained by other means.
And keep this in mind: The United States signed the international Convention Against Torture. Not incidentally, that agreement requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.
We don’t want to see the report used as another excuse for Democrats to bash the Bush administration. After the stunning 9/11 attack, no one knew the extent of the terrorist threat. It is understandable the White House’s first priority would be quickly obtaining information that could save American lives. President Obama, to his credit, has said the nation should look forward and not dwell on finding fault with past decisions.
But one does not have to engage in finger pointing to coolly reflect on what is the proper course of action in the future.
The new report should prompt a much broader and deeper national discussion over torture, a practice it makes clear the nation has moral and practical reasons to avoid.