Torture is never patriotic

It was worse than we knew.

A number of years ago, we decried the Central Intelligence Agency’s and Department of Justice’s use of waterboarding and other so-called forms of “enhanced interrogation” as sadistic frauds, attempts to extract useful information that had been proven unreliable as long ago as the witchcraft trials of the 17th century, when Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee wrote that he could, with the application of pain, produce confessions of witchcraft from devout priests.

Torture doesn’t work. It’s never worked.

And the practice of torture by its practitioners in CIA “black sites” was even worse than we knew. The release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week tells us that everything we feared was true, and more.

Yet we still have those who insist that torture was justified, that American lives were saved by inflicting brutality on others.

We can only suspect that those defenders have a serious case of “Jack Bauer Syndrome,” a dangerous disease of perception caused by the inability to distinguish between fact and fantasy. In their fantasy world life is like the show 24, a place where torturing people produces information that would otherwise be unavailable and saves us all from a terrorist attack.

In fact, torture produces extremely unreliable or completely fabricated information, because the simple reality is that people who are being tortured—no matter who they are—will say anything to make it stop.

This is not the first time that the CIA has been found to be far exceeding the boundaries set by the Constitution and our collective national morality. Reports from the Church Committee in the mid-1970s resulted in the revelation that the CIA had been involved in attempts to assassinate foreign leaders and subvert foreign governments and led to a number of reforms.

Apparently, those reforms, as well as the establishment of the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, have not been enough.

Instead, we have a president who, in the same speech, decries the actions of CIA operatives while at the same time referring to them as “American patriots.”

Let’s be clear: There is nothing patriotic about torture. It is a tactical failure and an ethical nightmare. It has no place in democracy. It makes every situation worse.

President Barack Obama and Congress—following the example set in the speeches last week by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. John McCain—need to be completely clear that, going forward, torture will not be tolerated. The CIA must be held accountable for actions that have not only damaged America’s standing in the world, but may directly lead to violence against Americans in retaliation for the treatment of prisoners and detainees.

Revealing and punishing torture committed by American officials is not the problem. The problem is allowing it to happen at all. That’s got to stop. We must lead by example, and our current example is one that ought to shame us all.