One of the more troubling aspects of the Republican presidential “debate” last week was that most of the candidates, when presented a hypothetical scenario involving suicide bombers attacking shopping malls (with some terrorists being captured and a new attack expected), implicitly and in some cases explicitly and even eagerly, endorsed torture as a legitimate interrogation technique.
Some took refuge in the verbal dodge “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but as Texas Rep. Ron Paul described that formulation, “It sounds like Newspeak.”
Besides Rep. Paul, the honorable exception to toleration of torture by agents of the U.S. government was Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has actually endured torture.
One comment was especially telling: “When I was in Vietnam, one of the things that sustained us, as we underwent torture ourselves, is the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them.
“It’s not about the terrorists, it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are. And a fact. The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they’re going to tell you what they think you want to know.” Not the truth, but what they think will stop the pain.
We can understand a sort of mock-macho willingness to consider torture against ruthless terrorists who not only have no qualms about torture themselves but engage in beheading, intentional murder of innocent civilians and other atrocities. But torture is not only a descent into barbarism that should not be acceptable in a civilized country, torture as an effective method of getting at the truth is the stuff of spy novels and TV shows rather than real life.
One can understand, after a vicious attack, a temptation to torture an accomplice out of anger or rage. But to justify it as a way of protecting the American people is intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. That serious candidates for the highest office in the land would do so openly is simply appalling.