The problem with torture

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Torture defies our American values. As a descendent of our founding forefathers  – I’m a Daughter of the American Revolution – my ancestors were the ones that fought for liberties including the concept that no one should be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. This ideology became a cherished principle that has been exported internationally to other countries through the International Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention. With all the debate on torture, I have never seen an argument saying it isn’t cruel.
 
Torture creates deep and permanent scars. I am the wife of a torture survivor. Because of my husband’s experience being scourged as a Palestinian whom Israeli soldiers thought had information they could use, I know deeply and personally how those who have been tortured carry the scars for their entire lives and are affected in every relationship with loved ones. While my husband’s abuse was committed by a foreign entity, the similarities with the post-9/11 era U.S. approach are parallel. My husband was never convicted of any charge, but “his past experience” was rationalized as crucial for intelligence-gathering purposes – even such tactics that include torture.
 
Torture endangers our troops. As the cousin of a current officer in the U.S. Navy, I wonder how my cousin’s wife and two young children would respond to a foreign entity announcing that the torture of any captured U.S. troops is justified on the grounds of ascertaining intelligence. Would the Navy have to concede that this is only fair?
 
Torture has racial underpinnings. Rarely do those that torture do so to individuals like themselves. It typically crosses religious or ethnic boundaries. I was born during the congressional hearings of the U.S. Civil Rights Act and thus would have been one of the firstborn of a generation where racism was eradicated or at least marginalized. I don’t think that is a legacy that I or my generation can now claim.
 
Lastly, torture is just wrong. As someone who was middle-aged when the September 11 terrorist attacks happened, I remember my country during a time when a debate on the acceptability of torture would have been totally unthinkable. Those that are much younger don’t have that background. Instead, the use of torture has become a part of the culture, an established meme of American society. It’s frightening when we realize that although President Obama outlawed torture through executive order upon entering the White House, executive orders are not permanent; they can be turned over by a subsequent president.
 
Some debates on torture have focused on the notion that it is effective. While there is strong evidence that such methods of interrogation are poor instruments for intelligence-gathering, I find the very subject matter not worthy of debate. To me, this rationale based on efficacy is no different than a trial attorney stating that a particular criminal action was justified because it benefited his client. Similarly, torture simply is so wracked with moral and justice-based flaws that American society should preempt it as even a topic of discourse on efficacy.
 
Kerin is co-chairwoman of Pax Christi at St. Francis Parish in Derwood, Md. and Steering Committee member of the Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture, a partner of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.