Torture: Anti-Military, Unamerican And It Doesn’t Work

Over the last decade, our willingness to engage in torture represents an ideologically heavy and ill-informed perspective on power that has made us less safe, less strong and less able to prosper in today’s world. Osama Bin Laden’s demise offers a great opportunity to turn the page and start anew.  

Five years ago, we were at a low point in our constitution’s history. In 2006, the vote on military commissions (the torture bill) passed in the House and Senate. The political dilemma: oppose it on principle and open yourself up to “soft on defense” messaging vultures during election season, or vote for it and depress your human rights and religious base. For many voters, torture has been a bright line moral issue. After all, America’s founders risked everything so that individuals would have the right to trial and to be able to face their accusers. Torture turns the rule of law on its head. As it turns out, their virtuous insight makes tactical sense as well. 

The Constitution is Not a Political Football

Last night’s first 2012 Republican debate illustrated that torture is not a partisan issue. Libertarians Ron Paul and Gary Johnson do not support it. Senator Lindsey Graham (R SC) has been a consistent critic. For years, most Congressional Democrats have held the line against “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the Bush Administration’s euphemism for torture. Some of them spoke out during the Bush years:

  • Rep Ike Skelton (MO): “If you want to be tough on terrorists, pass a statute that will meet the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of our country.”
  • Rep. Steve Israel (NY): “If I am asking young men and women to die for what we stand for, I want to stand for something.”
  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY): “We rebelled against King George for far less infringements.”
  • Democratic Leader Pelosi (CA): “This bill does violence to the Constitution.”
  • Democratic Whip Hoyer (MD): “This legislation, at bottom, is really more about who we are as a people than it is about those who seek to harm us.”
  • Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY): “This bill sends a clear message to both our friends and our enemies about what kind of people we are. It shows them whether or not we are really willing to practice what we preach about freedom, democracy, and human dignity.”
  • Rep. Barbara Lee (CA): “America has always been not only a nation, it has been an idea. And when we sacrifice that idea, it is a setback in this war of ideas.”


Torture is a Tactical Failure: Hypocrisy a Strategic Mistake

The world is a confidence game. US security increasingly depends on broad swaths of populations perceiving us, if not positvely, at least not so negatively that they act on it.  This point was made clear to me a few years back during a conversation with an Army lawyer stationed in Afghanistan when the Abu Ghraib photos came out.  These photos depicted U.S. troops humiliating and harming Iraqi prisoners. 

My Army lawyer friend said he had to explain this to his Afghan colleagues and that he told them the American justice system would find the wrongdoers and punish them.  At the same time, he said it was a terrible moment for everyone working on rule of law and criminal justice in Afghanistan. Keep in mind that these crucial functions of governance are prime counter-terrorism activities.

Repeatedly, the most compelling condemnation of torture comes from those who experience the negative blowback first hand: diplomatic, military and intelligence personnel.  

For years, the Army has criticized the practice, pointing out the negative consequences like further radicalization, recruitment and the damaged image of the USA.  Like my Army lawyer friend, these individuals experience the second and third order negative effects of American domestic political choices.  

These recent statements and timelines should dispel the false rumor that torture had much to do with Bin Laden’s demise. What we need to focus on now is how to move beyond this debate in the United States so that we can regain our stature in the world.

Our best chance to influence the outcome of recent Arab revolutions is to improve the practice of democracy here in the USA:

1. Credibility in the eyes of the world will require confidence-building investments here at home. U.S. health, education and critical infrastructure has suffered because of under-investment.  These are key indicators of strength.

2. The USA must reverse its course toward becoming a junk bond nation. The huge disparity of wealth (1% of the population controls 40% of the resources) has huge negative consequences.  Why should other countries take a risk on us if we won’t invest in ourselves?

3. Our national security budget priorities must change. Defense spending should never have become the jobs program that it is today, divorced from strategic concepts and requirements.  Every state must form a sustainable security task force for economic conversion.

4. The Navy Seals may have the sexy headlines, but the killing of Bin Laden came from a renewed dedication to non-lethal security measures like dedicated intelligence analysis, police work, intelligence sharing and improved U.S. image.

5. Reinvent governance for the new era.  Power is redistributing the world over.  The U.S. government, including Congress, is more open and transparent than ever.  Yet transparency does not equal accountability.  Can we rise to this occasion?

We have so many challenges before us as a nation that we must move along. Bin Laden is dead. Now let’s dispose of the torture debate along with him.

Related Stories:

Eminent US Legal Scholars Protest ‘Torture’ Of Bradley Manning

Leaked Files Reveal Secrets About Guantanamo, Flaws Made by Analysts

Rumsfeld: Bin Laden Info from Gitmo NOT from ‘Harsh Treatment’ or ‘Waterboarding’


Photo from horizontal.integration via flickr


michael g o'leary
michael o'leary6 years ago

i would do exactly what was being done to those terrorists.they do not represent any standing army. i would take several of them and put them on a large boat and go to an area that was being chummed for sharks. after 4 or 5 days of chumming the waters the sharks would be plentiful. i would take the first terrorist and stand him up at the back of the boat and demand answers to any everything he knows. if he doesn't want to talk then into the water he goes. i would get the second terrorist and take him to the back of the deck and demand that he tells me everything he knows. if he doesn't want to cooperate then into the water he goes. while the other terrorists are hearing their buddies screaming from the sharks attacking them then i'll bet anything they'll be telling me whatever i wanted to know and then some. they would rat out their own mother if she were involved. i would let them know that the information they give up better be true or they will be the first one in line to go swimming with the idiots who seem to think that buy being nice to them they will be nice to you and tell you whatever you want to know. they look at you as weak and unwilling to do anything mean to them. they have no rights except to tell me what i want to know. the sooner they talk the better off they'll be. they should be put to work doing hard labor . if they don't like that then they will have plenty of time to learn

Ed Gould
Ed G6 years ago

I agree that torture should not be allowed *AND* if any past or preasent people help in anyway that they should be brought up on military/US charges and be given maximum sentences. This means Bush/Cheney and CIA people be put away for minimum of 20 years in a harden US criiminal prison. Left there to rot.

David R.
David Roles6 years ago

When you torture terrorist prisoners, you are sinking down to their level and you are becoming the very thing you are fighting. There is no place for torture in any civilized nation.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams6 years ago

Torture doesn't work. Any prisoner of war one might consider torturing is either 1) a low level nobody who doesn't know anything so anything he/she could tell you would be a figment or his/her imagination or 2) a well-trained professional prepared with a disinformation campaign to spout at the least provocation. Either way, any information you get from torturing a prisoner will be misinformation. You could get at least as good information from a random number generator.

Frank Mugford
Frank Mugford6 years ago

Well said that man Robert Hamm! He is an American the World wants to meet; somebody who treats others properly and doesn't push them around.
The US is made a laughing stock by the actions of bush, cheney, rove, wolfovitch, rumsfeld etc., etc.; they are little less than scum and palin and co. are just plain jokes.
It's pathetic to see a great country ruined by the actions of such morons and the greed for money. The Founding Fathers would not recognise what the US is today.

David C.
David Connally6 years ago

@Duncan O "I have two [unconstitutional acts] ; ObamaCare & cap & trade by fiat through Executive order to the EPA."

Two is "many"?? Especially ridiculous when neither is valid.

Obamacare???? You can't count that. Been considered by five federal district judges. One of the five said the entire bill was unconstitutional, one didn't like mandatory insurance. Three said the entire bill was OK. Mandatory insurance has yet to be introduced.

Cap & Trade???? Another loser. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA cannot refuse to regulate carbon dioxide - the position of the Bush era EPA. The EPA either has or is in the process of defining carbon dioxide emission rules. A cursory Google did not turn up any specifics. There is no Trade involved. How can the EPA setting limits be unconstitutional? That's one of its jobs.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm6 years ago

John, I don't care about the terrorists either. Thats not the point!!!

The point is who WE are.......What WE stand for. When we use THEIR tactics we become THEM in a different uniform. Apparently someone has convinced you thats ok. None of the men that I knew In Nam felt that way. It's a shame you have taken the easy road of bitterness and payback over your own countries principles. When I talk about how our country has changed this is part of what I am talking about. There are too many nasty bastards in our leadership now that also took that shortcut.They believe war is simply a way to make a living.
So lets run it like a corporation. ANYTHING that makes us "rich" or win is good. That is simply not true. As you get older you will understand HOW you won matters MORE than winning.

Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil6 years ago

I would suppose those of us hated are the members of the body public that speak in the fashion depicted below!

"I bet most of them are Repugs or Teatards"

Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil6 years ago

I have two; ObamaCare & cap & trade by fiat through Executive order to the EPA.

Not attributable to Obama;
The Department of Education
National Endowment for the Arts

Duncan O'neil
Duncan O'neil6 years ago

Bush started it! Right!

What care we what The Hague says? We are still a NATION, with our own laws & courts!

Original Message:

Parvez left a comment on the following article:

Torture: Anti-Military, Unamerican And It Doesn't Work
it all started by that Idiot President Bush ... he has started all this