Just last week, there were fresh claims about CIA torture of detainees at a black site in Afghanistan. Two Tunisian men told Human Rights Watch they were strapped to a board and held with their heads upside down in a barrel of water. They were beaten with metal rods, anally raped and threatened with a makeshift electric chair.
Yet the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr, still won’t release its full report on what was done to CIA captives.
War is hell. War is a sin, a stain on humanity, but those who fight a war must treat it as an all-consuming emergency. A soldier’s duty in a war is to kill his enemy. It is a paradox of warfare that to deliberately injure or maim your enemy is a crime against humanity. When your enemy surrenders, or is wounded, or is in some other way no longer capable of resisting, it is your responsibility to treat him humanely, to protect him as much as you would your comrades.
If you get on a field and beat somebody with a helmet and shoulder pads, at least you and your adversary are complicit. If you arrest someone and beat him in his jail cell, though, you are a meta-criminal who probably deserves the most severe legal punishment possible.
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There is no rational context in which one human being should inflict pain on another.
So why do we torture enemies? Intelligence? Any responsible intelligence professional will admit information gained from torture is unreliable. Deterrence? The cumulative effect of a policy of torture includes recruitment of untold numbers for the enemy. Retribution? Retribution in war is neither legal nor effective in defeating the enemy. Power? A nation that gains power by committing crimes against humanity has much worse problems to solve than simply winning its war, because that nation has lost its soul.
The CIA even concluded its large-scale post-9/11 torture program was brutal and ineffective. In the “Panetta Review,” an internal assessment, the agency also acknowledged it lied to Congress by claiming the program yielded useful intelligence. Yet when the Senate Intelligence Committee reported the same conclusions publicly, the CIA and its allies attacked unrelentingly.
Why can the American people not see the Panetta Review? It should be declassified and released with the full Senate “torture report.” Over half of Americans still believe our government must sometimes torture. It’s no wonder, given the lies and the cover-up.
The American people do not realize the high price we’ve paid for systematically torturing and then pretending we didn’t. In “The Strategic Costs of Torture,” Alberto Mora, a former general counsel of the Navy, wrote U.S. torture serves as the “greatest recruiting tool” for terrorists; interferes with alliances to fight terrorism; has turned populations across the world against us; subjects our leaders to foreign criminal proceedings; and has led to a rise in abusive practices by other nations.
Torture is illegal, morally wrong and strategically ineffective. It degrades both the victim and the perpetrator.
We need to stop hiding our torture record. Public officials who refuse to confront our responsibility are harming America. Their attempts to justify torture and protect those who ordered it will be judged harshly by our children and grandchildren.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” In the 21st century, we must decide to agree that “Those who would give up basic Human Dignity, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Dignity nor Safety.”
Mark White is a retired military officer living in Fayetteville, N.C.