Torture Is Beneath UsDecember 11, 2014
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s alleged use of torture is, in a word, appalling. I’ve tried to read it, but some of the interrogation practices it describes are more than I can handle. Consequently, this post relies primarily on news reports written by people with stronger stomachs than mine.
Let me start by acknowledging that our nation is at war and American lives have been at stake for more than a decade. Innocent people don’t deserve to be murdered, and the CIA has an affirmative duty to protect our citizens from terrorists. I get that. I really do. But there’s an aspect of the public discussion around the Senate report that absolutely must be addressed. Even the sharpest critics of the brutal interrogation practices attributed to the CIA routinely qualify their comments by observing that, not only were those practices abhorrent, they didn’t even generate useful intelligence. Does that mean that, if torture does generate useful intelligence, it’s distasteful but ultimately okay?
Three years ago, Senator John McCain, himself a war hero, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post that torture cannot be justified on utilitarian grounds. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners, he very correctly observed, not only endangers our own troops, but stands in fundamental opposition to the American principle that “an individual’s human rights [are] superior to the will of the majority or the wishes of government.” To further quote Senator McCain, this isn’t a question of what works and what doesn’t. “This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.”
Tomorrow night, I’ll take the stage with more than fifty friends in a musical revue titled “A USO Christmas,” celebrating the brave men and women who risked their lives in World War II. If there was ever a more evil scourge on the planet than Hitler’s Third Reich, I don’t know what it was, and the brave warriors who fought and died to defeat that evil deserve our gratitude and praise. We owe it to them, and to generations of Americans to come, not to allow the foundational principles of our country – that the rule of law matters and basic human decency must be preserved – to be eroded by fear and expediency. Yes, it matters that we live, but how we live matters, too.
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