Torture and American Values

The New York Times has an excellent editorial which summarizes the case against torture based upon American values. I might have made similar arguments base upon “liberal values” but the Times is correct in arguing that these truly are American Values.

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if not their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After further discussion of the misconduct of the Bush administration, the editorial returns to areas of principle.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose president declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

Beyond the many other arguments which show that torture does not work, the ultimate question is what type of nation we will be. This in itself is reason enough for those who share both liberal and American values to be repulsed by the conduct of the Bush administration. The type of nation we are is also a factor which impacts pragmatic considerations of our national interest. To a certain degree the cold war was a matter of winning hearts and minds, and this is even more the case in the current struggle against the extremism which fuels terrorism.


  1. 1
    Steve Savage says:

    During WWII, American interrogators found that by treating prisoners with respect they were able to glean much more useful information than through torture. Apparently the treatment made the german prisoners a bit loose lipped, and they were so comfortable they talked openly about military secrets to each other. Many were also quite guilty that they were treated so well while their fellow soldiers were dying in battle, and they were willing to help to end the war more quickly in exchange for garantees of good treatment for other captured prisoners and civilians when the war ended.

  2. 2
    IMSMALL says:


    Bankrupt the moral values of
    This people, if it had
    Any before as were above
    Figuring out how best to add
    A dollar to the bank account,
    Or better still, a large amount.

    The means whereby addition be
    Effected hardly matters,
    Or flipping in the housing spree
    Or turning dwellers into squatters–
    Stealing or cheating, stealthy con,
    It hardly matters how ´tis done.

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