First, let's be clear. Waterboarding is torture. It is not a truth-seeking tool. It is torture — torture as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory. And yet, several Republican presidential candidates say they wouldn’t hesitate to order waterboarding, and our current president has failed to fully investigate its use in the past – even though he has said under his watch it is on longer considered acceptable.
Let us also be clear that many of the other so-called “techniques” used by the CIA and the Department of Defense in the years after 9-11 can also only be defined as torture. Stress positions, exposure to extreme temperatures, and sleep deprivation are recognized as torture around the world, and these are acts we would never condone being perpetrated on our own soldiers. Ayotte’s amendment would create a classified list of secret interrogation techniques outside of the Army Field Manual that could be used by a special group of interrogators on certain detainees designated as “high-value” to the government. The secrecy of the list and Ayotte’s explanation of its purpose makes clear that it is designed to bring back the very torture techniques that President Obama specifically rejected his second day in office.
The United States must live up to our Constitution, laws and principles. We signed the Convention Against Torture, and in so doing, we agreed with the rest of the civilized world not to use torture and to investigate and prosecute anyone who does. The debate over this issue isn’t a question of choosing among different acceptable options; it’s a question of choosing lawful versus unlawful; humane versus inhumane; moral versus immoral. Those aren’t – or shouldn’t be – debatable questions.
Those who claim such techniques are not torture may do so with all the certainty and indignation they can muster, and they can accuse those who want to abide by the Constitution, U.S. law, and our responsibility as a member of the world community as being “soft” or easy on terrorism, but they would be wrong. After the horrors of WWII, the civilized world together decided there are certain things that under all circumstances are wrong, inhumanely wrong. Torture is one of them. Moreover, experts tell us torture doesn’t work; it creates more inspired enemies than it eliminates, and it corrodes the soul of the nation that uses it.
We need to stop this misinformation campaign on the legitimacy and value of torture. And we need to continue to restrict from reaching the floor – or when they do, reach the floor, to defeat – amendments like the one by Sen. Ayotte that would return us to the dark, dark days of Abu Ghraib and CIA secret prisons.
I write as president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a coalition of over 300 religious groups representing most of the major faiths in the United States. As people of faith, we have an obligation to reveal how torture is evil. As citizens of the United States, we have a commitment to do anything we can to ensure our country lives up to its deepest values.
Linda J. Gustitus is President of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.