First, if you haven’t already, be sure to read today’s “The Mental Murder of Torture,” by First Things associate editor Russell E. Saltzman:
Now, I’m not so dumb or so liberal that I can’t understand and remember and share the anger the September 11 attack produced in America, nor was I the least bit hesitant in supporting the studied determination of making sure that nothing like it ever happen again. But if there is anyone suggesting the American homeland is safer today for having abandoned the ordinary principles of humane treatment for prisoners in American custody, then he’s a moral midget. Torture is not what Americans do. Not if we still have some lingering respect for the rights with which God endows humanity.
Then, over on Public Discourse, check out Christopher Tollefsen’s latest, “Torture: What it is, and Why it is Wrong”:
Yet taken en masse, the range of enhanced interrogation techniques looks very much like a strategy for breaking down hardened characters bit by bit; standing naked, shackled, deprived of sleep, kept awake with cold water and loud noise, prevented from cleaning oneself after defecation, and subject to painful (though not physically damaging) slaps and disorienting smacks against a wall—and then subject to repeated waterboarding over a course of weeks or months: this looks like precisely the sort of choice described by Lee and myself (though I do not, of course, speak for Lee in drawing my conclusions), viz., the choice to disrupt an agent’s capacities for personal integrity by disrupting his control over his emotions, choices, self-awareness and self-image, connection to other human beings, and judgments.
If so, then neither legal distinctions between this and the infliction of severe pain and suffering, nor consequentialist judgments about national security, nor even reasonable awareness that these terrorists were bad people, and that the US was in a very difficult situation, making hard choices under considerable stress with, in most cases, the good of the country in view, should obscure the judgment that these approaches involved torture. This judgment should especially guide us in going forward: we should repudiate such techniques across all intelligence gathering operations, as was done in the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations and resolve to hold such operations to the highest moral standards. But we should hope that such a resolve is possible without descent into the politicizing and partisanship that threatens to knock any effort at serious moral self-criticism off course.
Finally, torture is prominently featured in Ross Douthat’s debut as a New York Times columnist:
A large swath of the political class wants to avoid the torture debate. The Obama administration backed into it last week, and obviously wants to back right out again.
But the argument isn’t going away. It will be with us as long as the threat of terrorism endures. And where the Bush administration’s interrogation programs are concerned, we’ve heard too much to just “look forward,” as the president would have us do. We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute—unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses—but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.
Here Dick Cheney, prodded by the ironies of history into demanding greater disclosure about programs he once sought to keep completely secret, has an important role to play. He wants to defend his record; let him defend it. And let the country judge.