Yes, Torture Can Work, and Yes, It's Still Wrong

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By Lisa Beyer

The anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden has renewed a yearlong debate in the U.S. The question: Did torture of captured al-Qaeda agents provide intelligence essential to that operation?

Former government officials, including the CIA director, the deputy director for operations and the attorney general, say yes. In a statement last week, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called these assertions "wrong." The committee's comprehensive review of the CIA's previous interrogation program would soon be complete, and their statement made clear where it would come down.

But there's no use hoping the report will settle the question. The issue has become hopelessly partisan. Republicans have declined to participate in the review, and in a statement responding to Feinstein and Levin, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the lead Republican on the committee, dismissed it. Both sides in the does-torture-work debate know what they believe. They've shot their arrow and drawn the bull's-eye where it hit.

This is unfortunate, and not just for those of us who oppose torture. It is foolish to claim that torture never leads to actionable intelligence. It has and will. The question should be: Does that make it justified?

Those who object to torture should focus on how it harms our soldiers in the field, our standing in the world, and our efforts to get other countries to respect rule of law generally. More than that, torture degrades both the abused and the abuser. It's the wrong thing to do. It's not who we are.

Yes, there may be intelligence we do not get -- or get too late -- because we do not torture. There is nothing new in that. Protecting individual rights inevitably involves risks to public safety. That's the American system. Torture abolitionists would have a stronger case if they stood up for it.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)


-0- May/02/2012 14:45 GMT