Column: Torture is Illegal. We’re a Nation of Laws

Torture is illegal. Period. End of debate. There is no legal, moral or probable justification for torture. It’s against the Bill of Rights; it’s against the Geneva Convention; it’s against United Nations Convention Against Torture (ratified by the U.S. in 1994); it’s against every state statute from every modern constitutional democracy and every decent and encouraging proposal coming from humanity in the last century.

President Reagan wrote to the Senate in 1988 urging the ratification of the U.N. Convention, saying it “will demonstrate unequivocally our desire to bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture.”

Torture is against every article, agreement, protocol and treaty we currently depend upon for civilization. It’s universally held as illegal in every instance for any reason.

Plus it’s wrong. All of the free world views it as wrong. It’s completely indefensible.

It was wrong when they did it to Jesus Christ. It was wrong when they did it to accused heretics. It was wrong when they did it to Abu Zubaydah.

Something this unanimously deplored is not suddenly OK if it’s hoped to be useful.

If torture is so useful and necessary for keeping us safe—if we can’t be safe WITHOUT torture—if policymakers are so completely comfortable with its implementation—why not use it on all accused criminals to extract confessions and information? Why? Because it’s wrong, it’s repugnant and furthermore it doesn’t work.

There is no evidence save those falsified after the fact by war criminals that shows torture works. In fact, the opposite is true. Even Napoleon Bonaparte knew this to be the case, “The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished,” he wrote in a letter in 1798. “It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know.”

Or as current CIA Director John Brennan puts it—it’s unknowable.

The rationalization is this: We hate terrorists, we like the idea of them suffering, so we found a loophole where we can rectally hydrate them.

Torturing alleged terrorists is sadistic catharsis. Full stop.

What about our laws? President Obama, a leader whose reputation is of a divisive tyrant, is actually a man who wants nothing more than to make nice with Obama-allergic mouth-frothing Republicans, many of whom have taken to cable TV this week to tout the merits of their poll-tested euphemisms for torture. Obama has decided not to pursue criminal charges against the architects and practitioners of the CIA’s well-documented torture program. We’re a nation of exceptions to the internationally ratified rules—a nation of exonerating human rights abusers for political conciliations.

We’re a nation of laws with an asterisk. We’re a nation that has some senior officials, politicians and CIA operatives who’d be wise not to try to travel to Europe, according to some legal experts. Really, we’re a nation—according to the United Nations Convention Against Torture—harboring international criminals.

“I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture, and I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture,” said then President-elect Obama in 2008. “Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

Now Obama is giving torturers amnesty by executive decree.

Now every despotic human rights-violating regime from China to Iran, from Russia to North Korea has managed to collectively look down their autocratic noses at us and tsk tsk at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture. It’s only a matter of time until the photographic evidence will also be released. Then the world will really see what we’ve been doing when we hoped no one was looking.

This issue isn’t going to get better no matter how many times Dick Cheney goes on Meet the Press to obfuscate what is clearly state-sanctioned rape while in the custody of the U.S.

Keep your promise, Mr. President. Let sunlight and accountability ensure Salt Pit, COBALT, Abu Ghraib and America’s other black site gulags never happen again.

End torture. Start prosecutions.




Photo by Fibonacci Blue