Torture is Not a Republican Value

Torture is Not a Republican Value

Contrary to what many have said, supporting torture is not part of being a conservative. If continued, White House policies that tolerate it will undermine U.S. credibility, produce bad intelligence and put American soldiers at risk.

Torture is immoral and therefore something that conservative Republicans, who have always given the highest priority to values and liberties, should never embrace as a policy. Those Republicans who were in government under Ronald Reagan should ask themselves just one question: Would President Reagan condone torture? The answer is self-evident.  He would not.  Reagan won the Cold War without torturing anyone.  Reagan would understand that torture dehumanizes and brutalizes the men and women who carry it out, the organization that orders it and the government that permits it.  Loyalty to George W. Bush and his policies is not a good enough reason to accept something like torture.

The illegality of torture is quite clear, contrary to the views of some presidential candidates and the White House.  The United States fought Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in part because of the inhumanity of their regimes.  Harsh interrogation practices used against partisans in Norway, France, Italy, and the Balkans by the Nazis were condemned at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946.  The German defendants claimed that they were only torturing non-soldiers-the World War II version of today's enemy combatants, meaning the Geneva conventions did not apply-and maintained that the torture did not cause death. The court disagreed, stating that all prisoners should be subject to humane treatment and ruling that the interrogations were torture and that torture was a war crime.

For those who are not convinced either by ethics or law, the results obtained from torture should be considered.  I saw torture when I was a CIA officer in Istanbul.   A drug dealer was hung by his wrists in a prison, beaten for twenty minutes until he was bruised and swollen and several of his bones were broken.  He eventually confessed to everything, and, while he was probably guilty, it occurred to me that he might be innocent.  Torture works on a certain level-the selected victim frequently does confess to whatever the interrogator is asking just to stop the pain.  But I do not know a single working-level intelligence or law enforcement officer who approves of torture as an interrogation tool.  Torture produces bad information.  As every intelligence officer or police officer who has had access to information believed to be produced through harsh interrogation knows, the information that comes from physical abuse is unreliable and frequently false.  Furthermore, torture is itself not a straightforward mechanical process.  A Justice Department memo authored by John Yoo stated that anything that did not cause "organ failure or impairment of a significant body function" was permissible.  As interrogators are not doctors and the victims of the process are in varying degrees of health, how does the person inflicting the pain know when and where to stop?

Some recent examples of the actual results from torture are revealing. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded by the CIA and wound up confessing to 31 terrorist acts, most of which he could not possibly have carried out.  Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was rendered to the Egyptians, who tortured him. He told interrogators that Al-Qaeda had sent operatives to Iraq for training in biological and chemical weapons, false information which was included in Colin Powell's unfortunate address to the UN Security Council in February 2003. 

The frequently-used line about a "ticking bomb" suspect who has information on an impending terrorist act is fiction.  There are no actual "ticking bomb" cases and no cases where information obtained under torture by the CIA has actually been used in a timely fashion to save lives or avert a tragedy.  Administration claims that torture has resulted in information that has stopped eight separate plots to attack the U.S. and Europe should be viewed skeptically, since no corroborating details have been provided.  Even the Israelis no longer use torture-they have learned that they can obtain much more from their prisoners by treating them well and using normal police-style questioning.  Ironically, using coercive interrogation methods can make stopping terrorists more problematic, as many foreign intelligence services and police forces are reluctant to share information with any agency that is known to torture.

Finally, if the United States accepts that torture is a permissible practice it opens the door to the same or worse treatment for U.S. soldiers and diplomats who fall into the hands of terrorists.  That is a door that should not be opened.


Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism expert and presently serves as the Francis Walsingham Fellow for the American Conservative Defense Alliance.