This business of what constitutes torture is a complicated matter. It is further complicated by questions about its efficacy: Does it sometimes work? Does it never work? Is it always immoral? What about torture that saves lives? What if it saves many lives? What if one of those lives is your child's?
It’s a nice fiction, but it doesn’t wash. Despite the increasingly desperate claims of the most recent former Vice President, there is not yet one single shred of evidence that any of the information about America’s torture regime has saved a single life. Leaving that issue aside, how can a country that adopted the U.N. Convention on Torture as its highest law (as I detail here) even be thinking about discussing the morality of torture? We’ve long ago declared it illegal, so the morality play part of all this is really moot.
Cohen further writes:
No one can possibly believe that America is now safer because of the new restrictions on enhanced interrogation and the subsequent appointment of a special prosecutor. The captured terrorist of my fertile imagination, assuming he had access to an Internet cafe, knows about the special prosecutor. He knows his interrogator is under scrutiny. What person under those circumstances is going to spill his beans?
Having lived overseas as a kid, I can’t believe that anyone would think that torture of foreigners would make us safer. The Muslim world, in particular, already has along list of perceived and real grievances against the U.S. – why give them one more? For that matter, if we do torture, have we not already begun to dismantle the free-state that is so abhorrent to al Quaeda in the first place?
After wrestling for a paragraph with his supposedly simultaneous desires for absolute security and abhorrence of torture, Cohen closes with this:
The questions of what constitutes torture and what to do with those who, maybe innocently, applied what we now define as torture have to be removed from the political sphere. They cannot be the subject of an ideological tug of war, both sides taking extreme and illogical positions -- torture never works, torture
always works, torture is always immoral, torture is moral if it saves lives. Torture always is ugly. So, though, is the hole in the ground where the World Trade Center once stood.
As with so much else in the torture apologists’ playbook, Cohen overlooks the facts. The United States, by ratifying the U.N. convention on Torture has had a definition of action which constitutes torture since 1994. Hardly “what we now define as torture.” And, given that all the other apologists are indeed sucking both the victims of torture and the torturers into the ideological battle for our nation’s soul, Cohen’s professed concern for the whole thing is far too little, far too late. If he wants to ask a serious question, here’s one – what does the U.S. have to gain by being a nation that tortures anyone in clear contravention of our highest law and Constitution?