Steve Chapman

That doesn't change the nature of the practice. In a confidential 2007 report that recently was leaked, the International Committee of the Red Cross outlined the harsh methods used on CIA detainees and reached the blunt conclusion that they "amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

But some people don't care whether these methods qualify as torture as long as they yield useful information -- as Hayden and former Vice President Dick Cheney attest they do. Whether that's true is hard for an outsider to know. The Bush administration claimed that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammad helped foil a planned 2002 attack on Los Angeles -- forgetting that he wasn't captured until 2003. Maybe we'll get a better answer if the administration grants Cheney his request that it declassify material supporting his case, as it should.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has his doubts. "The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances, but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means," he said. "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

And if effectiveness is the only gauge, why even debate whether these techniques fit the definition of torture? The problem with using "it worked" as an argument is that it justifies too much. By that rationale, we can justify subjecting enemy captives to every form of torture ever devised. We can even justify torturing and killing their spouses, siblings, parents and children, right in front of them.

Cheney and others have yet to advocate going that far. But if they really believe what they say about the techniques we've used, here's a question they need to answer: Why not?


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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