Our torture policy

by Rob Tiller

Torture is not easy to think about, or to talk about.  But we need to do it.  Until we sort through the sordid business of America’s torture policy under George W. Bush, our moral standing will remain compromised.  If we think justice is important, there is no more compelling issue.

Over the past several years, Mark Danner has spoken out powerfully on our torture policy in the New York Review of Books.  He has summarized his most recent piece in today’s NY Times op ed piece “Tales from Torture’s Dark World.”   http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/opinion/15danner.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

Danner obtained confidential reports prepared by the Red Cross on the treatment of 14 detainees originally held in CIA black sites and transferred to Gauntanamo, and summarizes them in his latest work.  It’s bad.  Just about everything that could be done to mentally and physically brutalize humans was done.  Isolation, stress positions, extreme cold, starvation, brutal beatings, water boarding — more or less the same medieval tools used by the Spanish Inquisition.  

There is, of course, a reasonable likelihood that the tortured detainees were guilty of serious crimes.  As Danner points out, they probably deserve to be tried and punished.  The great irony of our torture policy is that it makes it unlikely that this will ever happen.  We’ve already seen cases from Guantanamo dismissed because the accused had been tortured.  In these types of cases, torture deprives society of the possibility of rendering justice.   Our most basic constitutional values have been sacrificed.

We do not yet know for certain whether our torture policy obtained vital information that couldn’t have been otherwise obtained.  It’s difficult to believe that any benefit to the national interest justified the sacrifice of our morality and our honor and violations of international law.  Danner believes the effectiveness, or lack of thereof, should be the subject of congressional inquiry.  Likewise, we need more information about the perpetrators of this policy.  It appears that Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft, Tenet, and other senior officials received daily reports on the torture techniques applied to the detainees.  

If there is to be any redemption from these medieval horrors, we need to begin with careful, thoughtful examination of what was done in the name of the war on terror, and a recommitment to the rule of law.