Saturday, November 19, 2005


Torture's evil lure

Boston Globe Editorial:

November 19, 2005

AMERICAN MORAL values should not become collateral casualties of the war on terror. That's what's at stake as the House considers Senator John McCain's amendment to ban torture by the US military and intelligence agencies.

Torture is anathema in any civilized society. It should not be necessary to ban it, and yet McCain's amendment is overdue. Ever since Sept. 11, and the administration decision to explore ''the dark side"-- Vice President Cheney's phrase -- reports have mushroomed about the abuse of detainees.

Mention of that phrase brings to mind Darth Vader, the ''Star Wars" character corrupted by the negative side of the life-affirming force. President Bush, Cheney, the Defense Department, and the CIA have likewise been emboldened by the authority the nation gave them following the attacks. The administration decided in 2002 that anything goes, short of organ failure.

The techniques used by American interrogators include water-boarding, in which a prisoner is tricked into thinking he is about to drown. They aren't quite as bad as those practiced in medieval times, but they can cause death, as happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last year when, as reported in The New Yorker, a prisoner stopped breathing after his head was covered with a plastic bag and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose.

The Senate unanimously approved the McCain amendment to the defense appropriations bill last month. Yet it is stuck in the House because of administration objections. ''We do not torture," said Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, in a television interview this week. So is he in favor of the amendment? ''The president has an obligation . . . to do what we need to do to protect the people of the United States." He added a hypothetical question: ''What happens if, on September 7th of 2001, we had gotten one of the hijackers . . . ?"

This is a difficult dilemma, McCain acknowledged in a Newsweek article. McCain, a victim of torture in Vietnam, concluded that in this one instance, Americans might tolerate mistreatment, but this far-fetched hypothesis should not determine policy.

Torture empowers the most barbaric tendencies of human nature. It erodes support for the United States in the very societies the administration is trying to win to its side in the war on terror.

And there's one other reason to oppose it, as explained by McCain in an anecdote from his captivity. He was being tortured, he said, to disclose the names of other fliers in his Navy squadron. To stop the pain, he revealed the names -- of the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers. Torture, more often than not, produces lies, instead of accurate information. It should have no place in this long twilight war.

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