Torture May Work, But Who Cares?


The killing of Osama bin Laden, amidst a brief boost of patriotism, revived the tough debate about torture. As John Yoo, a former Justice Department official for the George W. Bush administration, said, “President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today, but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.”

Opposition to torture is not about protecting terrorists. It's about avoiding a precedent that would allow authorities to extract information regardless of the method or the evidence.

As the story unfolded, it became evident that torture may have played a role in uncovering information that led to the death of bin Laden, but not quite as big of a role as Yoo suggests. As the New York Times explained, “A closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out."

But PolicyMic writer Catherine Skroch thinks otherwise, explaining that many national security leaders — "from CIA Director Leon Panetta to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)" — have stated that torture played a minimal role in obtaining important information relevant to bin Laden's whereabouts.

Regardless, the fact that torture could have played a role — however minimal — in the death of bin Laden has led to intense criticism for those who oppose it. And not only are the critics taking an unfair and illogical angle, they are also alienating a sensitive issue to deem anti-torture advocates un-American.

M. Gregg Bloche of the Washington Post writes that "Torture, liberals like me often insist, isn’t just immoral, it’s ineffective. We like this proposition because it portrays us as protectors of the nation, not wusses willing to risk American lives to protect terrorists."

If this is what conservatives assume, then they are completely misinterpreting the argument: no one who opposes torture for the right reason cares about its effectiveness. Of course torture can be effective. But that does not deal with the moral and legal issues, which would by this logic make torture a good technique in any criminal investigation, not just in the case of terrorists.

The political games surrounding this issue are striking and disheartening. The notion that opponents of torture are “wusses” is both childish and inaccurate. In fact, it is shocking to me that torture advocates get away with accusing opponents of being un-American enough to actually support and “protect terrorists.”

I was affected by the September 11 attacks more than most. I was forced to move away from my home and still walk past the site of the disaster every morning. I, more than anyone, want to see those responsible given the proper punishment. I feel more vengeance than anyone. But I still recognize their rights as human. And although it would be easy to argue terrorists are exceptions, I understand the immense issues that could arise from allowing authorities to take any necessary measures to extract information.

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