The ban on torture is absolute

After the horrors of World War II, the United States was a leader in the conduct of the Nuremberg trials, where we provided due process even to Nazi leaders who committed the most heinous atrocities. We were the leader in helping to establish standards of behavior for the treatment of prisoners of war and anyone caught in the potentially amoral vice of combat. One of those very clear standards was an absolute ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including torture.
 

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Yet, the United States violated that very ban following 9-11. We acted ignobly out of a terrible fear. We tortured detainees in a fruitless attempt to acquire information to prevent another terrorist attack. But the standards we put in place after World War II – and the standards any civilized society must follow – don’t provide any leeway for torture. The ban is absolute – no matter what the motive might be. And that’s because it is a slippery slope – once you use torture for one purpose, you can convince yourself it’s permissible for another. But the truth is, it’s morally corrupting of society as a whole, and it violates the most fundamental values of a civilized world that each person must be treated as having worth and dignity or we risk the worth and dignity of us all.
 
Mr. Rodriguez reveals in his book and in commentary on the book that he supports the use of the torture – which he calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – in which he participated because he believes it worked. Yet, experienced interrogators, as well as Senator John McCain, who was a victim of torture in Vietnam, say just the opposite – it doesn’t work, and that there are far better methods to get critical information. But, whether or not torture works – and I stand with those who believe it does not work and has the potential to cause more harm than gain by the negative effect of rallying our enemies – whether or not it works is not the central question. The central question is whether there is any circumstance under which it is permissible for a civilized country to use torture. And the answer is an unequivocal “no” as clearly stated in the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory.
 
When Mr. Rodriguez engaged in torture, he made a terrible decision, and he exacerbates that terrible decision by attempting to justify it through this book. Instead of claiming its benefits, he should be seeking forgiveness. I join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a coalition of 314 religious organizations in this country, in demanding accountability for the torture the U.S. perpetrated on 9-11 detainees. As religious leaders and people of faith, we acknowledge redemption. People can realize the wrong they did and seek forgiveness. That is the path we hope Mr. Rodriguez and his colleagues will take someday. But whether or not he does matters far less than that the United States acknowledges its wrongdoing and seeks its own redemption. And the path to that redemption requires a thorough investigation and accounting in the form of a government-appointed commission of inquiry into the torture imposed on detainees during the Bush administration.
 
That’s the United States I want to be proud of – the one that can use its talents and intelligence to lift human inquiry to the heavens, while acknowledging both its past failures and its promise for the future – to hold sacred the moral treatment of each and every human life.
 
Gustitus is president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.