Just what does U.S. get as consequence of torture?

November 10, 2005|By GREGORY D. FOSTER

WASHINGTON -- In confronting the subject of torture, we gain nothing then by asking whether it works. Rather, we should concentrate on its likely consequences - its strategic, political, institutional and ethical consequences. Here are some of the big questions we ought to be asking:

Does torture enhance U.S. credibility, legitimacy and influence abroad, or does it accentuate our hypocrisy, arrogance and moral bankruptcy?

Does it support the larger strategic aims of defeating terrorism, curbing militarism and spreading democracy, or does it exacerbate terrorism and thereby inevitably provoke countervailing militaristic, anti-democratic response?

Does it exemplify the leadership expected of the world's self-proclaimed only superpower, or is it a shameful capitulation to base norms of behavior set by our vilest, most despotic adversaries?

What does it say about who we are, what we stand for and who is looking back at us in the mirror? Are we a city upon a hill or a gulag?

Does it draw us closer to or alienate us from favored allies who have shared our most fundamental values and aims? Does it force us increasingly into alliances of convenience with unsavory partners?

How does it affect public trust and confidence in government - government that is expected to represent the people, serve their interests and present the country's face to the world?

How compatible is it with the values we profess and cherish: the rule of law, human dignity, justice, freedom from tyranny, public accountability?

Does it heighten the accountability and transparency required for sound democratic governance, or by its very nature does it breed obsessive secrecy, dishonesty, corruption and rogue behavior?

Do the hoped-for benefits it ostensibly promises - actionable intelligence - outweigh the expectable harms it creates - escalation, radicalization, resentment - and is supposed to prevent - terrorist attacks?

Is it a justifiable, proportional, legitimate means for pursuing the end of assured security?

What ethical and psychological effects - anger, depression, guilt, self-loathing - does it produce in those who practice it?

What does it reflect about the character and psychological makeup of its practitioners - aggression, cowardice, indiscipline, intolerance?

Does it matter that, like the most bellicose among us who have never heard a shot fired in anger or even donned a uniform, those most ardently committed to torture have never experienced it themselves or dirtied their own hands practicing (or even observing) it?

These are among the big questions lawmakers must address on the public's behalf if they are to answer the ultimate question: Does the United States have any business associating itself with torture? The answer is unequivocally clear.

Gregory D. Foster is a professor at the National Defense University. The views expressed here are his own. His e-mail is Fosterg@ndu.edu.

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