The Abolition Of Torture
Saving the United States from a totalitarian future.
December 19, 2005 |
Why is torture wrong? It may seem like an obvious question, or even one beneath discussion. But it is now
inescapably before us, with the introduction of the McCain Amendment banning all "cruel, inhuman, and
degrading treatment" of detainees by American soldiers and CIA operatives anywhere in the world. The
amendment lies in legislative limbo. It passed the Senate in October by a vote of 90 to nine, but President
Bush has vowed to veto any such blanket ban on torture or abuse; Vice President Cheney has prevailed
upon enough senators and congressmen to prevent the amendment--and the defense appropriations bill to
which it is attached--from moving out of conference; and my friend Charles Krauthammer, one of the most
respected conservative intellectuals in Washington (and a
contributing editor) has written a
widely praised cover essay for
The Weekly Standard
endorsing the legalization of full-fledged torture by the
United States under strictly curtailed conditions. We stand on the brink of an enormously important
choice--one that is critical, morally as well as strategically, to get right.
This debate takes place after three years in which the Bush administration has defined "torture" in the
narrowest terms and has permitted coercive, physical abuse of enemy combatants if "military necessity"
demands it. It comes also after several internal Pentagon reports found widespread and severe abuse of
detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere that has led to at least two dozen deaths during
interrogation. Journalistic accounts and reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross paint an
even darker picture of secret torture sites in Eastern Europe and innocent detainees being murdered.
Behind all this, the grim images of Abu Ghraib--the worst of which have yet to be released--linger in the
In this inevitably emotional debate, perhaps the greatest failing of those of us who have been arguing
against all torture and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees is that we have assumed
the reasons why torture is always a moral evil, rather than explicating them. But, when you fully ponder
them, I think it becomes clearer why, contrary to Krauthammer's argument,torture, in any form and under
any circumstances, is both antithetical to the most basic principles for which the United States stands and a
profound impediment to winning a wider war that we cannot afford to lose.
Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul,