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Torture’s Effectiveness Doesn’t Matter

As a consistent advocate for transparency in government, I support Dick Cheney’s recent request to release two currently classified documents on CIA success in obtaining information through torture techniques. I won’t even spend a lot of time noting the irony of America’s foremost advocate for secrecy suddenly demanding public access to classified information. I think transparency is good and so I support his request.

I hope the Obama administration goes further and not only releases the files that Mr. Cheney wants released, but all detainee files where torture (as defined as any techniques we label as such when done by other countries) was used. Only then can we really assess Mr. Cheney’s claim that torture was effective and saved US lives.

However, it really doesn’t matter whether torture is effective or not. Shooting your neighbor in the head may be an effective way to put an end to the riotous parties he holds every weekend, but that doesn’t mean that you should do it.

Aside from the moral case I’ve made against torture in the past, here are three other reasons I am absolutely against its employment:

1) Freedom isn’t Free. Free people need to be prepared to die for their fundamental beliefs and this isn’t something we can simply outsource to the military. Sometimes our commitment to our core democratic values will mean forgoing actions that may keep us safe in the short run, but enslave us in the long run.

2) We profess the rule of law. As long as we have the eighth amendment to our Constitution and are signatories to the Covention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions, we should not treat them like worthless pieces of paper. If you believe we should have the right to torture under some conditions, then lobby Congress to change the Constitution and withdraw from all treaties regarding the treatment of detainees. I’ll fight you tooth and nail, but this is your right under the first amendment to the Constitution.

3) Torturing countries don’t seem to be very safe places. If you browse the State Department’s Human Rights Reports and compare that to the Global Terrorism Database, you’ll be struck by the correlation between countries that practice the techniques allowed in the Office of Legal Counsel memos (condemned as torture by State) and countries suffering high numbers of terrorism incidents.

To be fair, not all countries that torture have high terrorism rates. But I haven’t found a country without documented torture policies with a high terrorism rate. But the main point is that since many countries that torture do have high levels of terrorism, you can’t really torture your way out of terrorism. You may well stop specific attacks, but your methods inspire new people unconnected to the original cells to take their place.

American torture – Never Again!


Cheney Requests Release of 2 CIA Reports on Interrogations
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 25, 2009

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