We Must Not Support Torture

I generally support the 9/11 Commission Bill (which is more formally known as H.R. 10). However, Sections 3032 and 3033 are very disturbing. They make it very easy for the US to move terrorist suspects into the custody of other countries in order to allow such suspects to be tortured in that country.


I strongly believe in the principle of policing your own. I am a Republican and a regular advocate for the Republican Party. You should consider this post a kind of 'toughlove'. As such I have some harsh words for the sponsors of this bill. This portion of the bill is morally, ethically, and politically wrong. It may be that you did not know all of what you were sponsoring (the bill is 300+ pages). But you should know now, and you should take action to change it.

There are so many things wrong with the idea of allowing real torture that I hardly know where to start.

First, it is wrong to treat people that way.

Second, these rules involve terrorist suspects. It is bad enough that we sometimes imprison the wrong people. Can we live with ourselves as a nation if we have condemned innocent men to having their fingernails slashed or their balls fried with electricity? If the French experience in Algeria is any guide, the regularization of torture causes an explosion of torture cases. They moved from the low hundreds to the thousands in just one year. That would likely involve torturing at least a hundred people per year who were innocent.

Third, it is a well understood conservative principle that people tend to push past the bounds of the legally permissible. Even though we have banned the use of torture in our country, the line between torture and non-torture is still skirted from time to time. Overzealous law enforcement people sometimes go a bit further than we allow. If we move the line to allow for exporting torture, where will those who go a bit further go? They will go to using a person's children against them. They will send a man and his wife to these other countries so the wife can be tortured in front of him. I can't predict exactly how it will work. But I know for a fact, and you do too if you think about it, that law enforcement pushes the line and pushes it hard. If we move the line so far as to allow suspects to be sent to other countries to be tortured, the actuality will go even further. You should also note that such exporting of suspects will never be under the classic 'ticking bomb' scenario which is sometimes used to justify torture. If we have time to send them to another country, the information isn't so crucial as a 'ticking bomb'.

Fourth, torture is rarely more effective than other interrogation techniques. Why open ourselves up to such horrors without even a payoff?

Fifth, for those not convinced by the above, it is politically stupid. This plays into all the left-wing fears about conservative blindness to the problems of the justice system. It makes all the whining about a 'police state' look a bit less crazy. It provides a perfect example of willingness to abandon our country's principles in the war on terrorism. Voters want tough, but they do not want crazy. We are at a crucial stage in a vital campaign. Throwing it all away by playing into every swing voter's concerns about Republicans possibly going too far is just plain stupid. So if your heart is hardened to the moral implications, at least pay attention to the political implications.

My message to Republican leaders is this, either listen to the moral implications, or at least learn Dan Rather's lesson. The blogosphere is beginning to focus its attention on this issue. Look at the number of trackbacks to katherine's post. It isn't just going away. Put it to rest now. Admit that you hadn't fully thought through the implications of this small section of the bill and move on. It would be the height of foolishness to risk the American public's backing for the War on Terror on a practice which is both highly immoral and typically unhelpful. We are going to have to steel the public's nerves for a lot of things to come in the future. It would be a shame to waste time and energy defending the unhelpful and indefensible instead of dealing with other issues which are highly useful to the war and merely tough to defend.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at September 30, 2004 3:33 AM | TrackBack (1)