If torture is as effective as former vice president Dick Cheney and former U.S. Department of Justice official John Yoo desperately want you to believe, the U.S. would have killed or captured Osama bin Laden years ago.
The notion that "enhanced interrogation techniques" were responsible for yielding valuable intelligence pertaining to bin Laden's courier is — at best — unfounded. Even if these methods have resulted in factually verifiable intelligence, it has been argued that conventional interrogation techniques could have produced the same intelligence — perhaps in a more timely fashion — especially considering that Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed admitted to giving up false information under the duress of torture as he was waterboarded 183 times in a month. The history of the past decade has been written almost entirely by an overly aggressive foreign policy on the part of the Bush administration, the prose of which has been punctuated by claims that liberals are weak on defense. The national security tactics and strategies embraced by the Obama administration — emphasizing controlled restraint while also establishing an aggressive and effective tempo against Al-Qaeda — have delivered a fatal blow to this commonly-held assertion.
Indeed, Al-Qaeda co-founder and presumptive leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was imprisoned and tortured for three years by the Egyptian government for his involvement in Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, as Lawrence Wright explained in The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
In our entertainment-driven culture, we must remind ourselves that this debate isn't occurring inside an episode of 24. The romanticized, Hollywood-polished idea many Americans seem to have of torture for the purpose of intelligence gathering is woefully ignorant of the detrimental effects it produces. In addition to the time and resources it takes away from more effective — not to mention legal — intelligence gathering, the illegality of torture tarnishes the reputation of the U.S. in the international community and disgraces the efforts and sacrifices of our armed forces. If these methods were effective, Abu Ghraib would have been celebrated as an intelligence coup. That such inhumane treatment is even considered is an affront to the ideals many have sworn to protect.
A noble objective such as this requires real strength and courage, not the chest-thumping, sword-rattling type we saw during the Bush administration.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons