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We Don't Torture. . . But Torture Does Work

Jacob Hornberger
Campaign for Liberty
May 9, 2009

John Ashcroft, who served as U.S. attorney general from 2001 to 2005, has an op-ed in the New York Times where he exclaims, "The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally in the financial meltdown…."

Oh? And why is that, Mr. Ashcroft? Why not simply "move on"? Why not let bygones be bygones? Why not just schedule a financial-meltdown truth commission? How about just some promises that the wrongdoing will never happen again? Why must you be so vengeful? Why do you want retribution? Why not just leave the malefactors alone? Why would you want to tear the country apart with criminal prosecutions?

After all, isn't this what people are saying about the torturers and those who authorized and ordered the torture? What's the difference?

Torture advocates claim that torture is justified because it produces valuable information that helps save people's lives. But if that's the case, then why even have the Geneva Conventions, which another U.S. attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, described as "quaint"? Don't POWs taken captive almost always possess information about enemy troop positions, movements, plans, and strategy? Wouldn't acquiring that information help save the lives of U.S. soldiers? Aren't the lives of the troops as valuable as the lives of civilians? Why not scotch that quaint Geneva Convention and just treat enemy POWs in the same way that suspected terrorists are treated?

What also befuddles me is why torture advocates limit themselves to "enhanced interrogation techniques" or what they might call "soft torture," such as waterboarding, walling, beating, sleep deprivation, sex abuse, prolonged standing, sensory deprivation, cold water, temperature extremes, and isolation. If acquiring valuable information is the goal, why not go all the way? Why not employ the stuff that really works, such as thumbscrews, the rack, sawing a person in half, pulling fingernails, or rape? Isn't that what government officials throughout history have done to acquire information?

Of course, I cannot help but wonder how the CIA and the Pentagon's use of "soft torture" brought about the deaths of several people in their custody. Wouldn't it be nice to at least know how and why those people were killed? Alas, we live in an era in which the murder of a few detainees produces nothing more than a ho-hum, lackadaisical, let's-move-on reaction from public officials.

President Obama continues to steadfastly oppose criminal prosecutions for those who violated the torture statutes. He also opposes public investigations into the scandal. Apparently he takes the position that because he has repeated President Bush's mantra, "We don't torture," the matter has been put to rest.

However, let's think back to the Pentagon's infamous School of the Americas torture manuals that the school was using to teach torture to Latin American military brutes. When those torture manuals came to light in 1996, weren't the American people treated to the same sort of pronouncements that we're being treated to today? Didn't U.S. officials express the same sorts of regrets and promises that we hear today?

Yet, did any of the regrets and promises arising from the disclosure of the School of the America's torture manuals dissuade U.S. military officials and CIA officials from employing the torture tactics described in those manuals some 15 years later as part of President Bush's war on terrorism?


So, in the absence of criminal prosecutions, why should anyone believe that the current set of expressions of regret and promises will produce a different result?

Could the reason that so many U.S. officials oppose accountability in the torture scandal be that they know that accountability might reveal that the torture scandal has been going on for decades rather than just a few years?

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a regular writer for The Future of Freedom Foundation's publication, Freedom Daily, and is a co-editor or contributor to the eight books that have been published by the Foundation. Visit his blog.

Copyright © 2009 Future of Freedom Foundation

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