Moreover, even if done in a few monitored cases, where it seems to be the only way to get immediate intelligence to save hundreds or thousands from imminent terror attack, down the chain of command they know it is being done. Thus, we get sadistic copycat conduct at Abu Ghraib by enlisted personnel to amuse themselves at midnight.
While the legal and moral case against torture is compelling, there is another side.
Let us put aside briefly the explosive and toxic term.
Is it ever moral to kill? Of course. We give guns to police and soldiers, and honor them as heroes when they use their guns to save lives.
Is it ever moral to inflict excruciating pain? Of course. Civil War doctors who cut off arms and legs in battlefield hospitals saved many soldiers from death by gangrene.
The morality of killing or inflicting severe pain depends, then, not only on the nature of the act, but on the circumstances and motive.
The Beltway Snipers deserved death sentences. The Navy Seal snipers who killed those three Somali pirates and saved Captain Richard Phillips deserve medals.
Consider now Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of 9-11, which sent 3,000 Americans to horrible deaths, and who was behind, if he did not do it himself, the beheading of Danny Pearl.
Even many opponents against torture will concede we have the same right to execute Khalid Mohammed as we did Timothy McVeigh. But if we have a right to kill him, do we have no moral right to waterboard him for 20 minutes to force him to reveal plans and al-Qaida accomplices to save thousands of American lives?
Americans are divided.
"Rendition," a film based on a true story, where an innocent man suspected of belonging to a terrorist cell is sent to an Arab country and tortured, won rave reviews.
But more popular was "Taken," a film in which Liam Neeson, an ex-spy, has a daughter kidnapped by white slavers in Paris, whom he tortures for information to rescue her and bring her home.
Certainly, Cheney and Bush, who make no apologies for what they authorized to keep America safe for seven and a half years, should be held to account. But so, too, should Barack Obama, if U.S. citizens die in a terror attack the CIA might have prevented, had its interrogators not been tied to an Army Field Manual written for dealing with soldiers, not al-Qaida killers who favor "soft targets" such as subways, airliners and office buildings.