Readers Speak Out On Torture

April 25, 2009

Last week, the Obama administration released a series of memos describing the "harsh interrogation" of suspects authorized by Bush administration officials.

For the uninitiated, I would note that "torture" of suspects would be a more accurate characterization.

But to quote the president, "It is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice ... that they will not be subject to prosecution."

The use of torture is despicable. The U.S. should never have descended to the point where we would use tactics normally associated with totalitarian regimes, thus besmirching the country, the Constitution and the rule of law.

But as with all crimes against humanity, it is the leaders, those who authorized the torture, who are the main offenders, and really need to be held accountable and brought to justice.

This is not to exonerate those who committed the actual torture. But the masterminds who gave them the official stamp of approval deserve the harsher judgment and punishment.

They must be viewed as the pariahs they are - as rogue elements not representative of who we are as a people.

Dave Lefcourt, Ellicott City

I empathize with President Barack Obama's reluctance to prosecute those lower-echelon interrogators who followed flawed guidance. I even feel some empathy for those charged with devising the rules of war in a time of great fear.

But what were they thinking? How could they ignore the Constitution, our international treaties, the rule of law and common sense?

So far, every example pointed to by those who would justify torture has been challenged by the facts. Experienced interrogators assure us that the best way to get information is to establish rapport and respect.

And in the larger picture, even if we did get some useful information from torture (and I am not convinced that we did), our use of torture was the best recruiting tool our enemies ever had.

We also set a model that every despot can now use to justify using torture.

Those who devised the upside-down justifications for torture that we have heard must be called to account.

We must start with a nonpartisan commission of inquiry and see where that leads.

It is not enough to have an executive order banning torture - for this administration. What about the next administration? And how would we respond to another attack?

We need to think very deeply about how we got to a place where we could accept a complete violation of our most fundamental values.

Suzanne H. O'Hatnick, Baltimore

The writer is Maryland legislative coordinator for Amnesty International U.S.A.

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