Stop torture—all of it

Whether it’s the CIA or American prisons, torture is unjustifiable

The debate surrounding the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture has focused on whether torture produced useful information. The report says no, but CIA officials and others say yes (though current CIA Director John Brennan acknowledges that its usefulness is “unknowable”).

That discussion, however, is a diversion from the truly important questions: Is torture ever morally justified? Is it legal? And is it still being done?

Sen. John McCain, himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War, insists torture is never justified, and the CIA was wrong to use it. “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “The American people are entitled to it nonetheless.”

Torture is also illegal. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan, that Republican icon, signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which states, in brief, that there is no justification—none—for torture.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee pushed for release of the report, believes it represents a return to core American values. “The important thing is that America recognizes its mistakes and takes the steps necessary to correct them,” she told The Sacramento Bee. “In so many countries, that doesn’t happen.”

But will the mistakes be corrected? Will the CIA be scrubbed clean of torturers? And will the U.S. cease torturing the hunger strikers at the Guantánamo prison by strapping them to a chair and jamming feeding tubes up their noses and into their stomachs?

And what about the more than 80,000 inmates in American prisons who are slowly going crazy in solitary confinement? Psychological torture can be even worse than physical torture, but we practice it routinely.

The truth pill we really need to swallow is that our government tortures in our name far more than we realize. None of it is necessary. None of it is justifiable. It’s up to us to make it stop.