On Torture

| Sun Feb. 21, 2010 1:40 PM EST

Gen. David Petraeus on whether he wishes Bush-era interrogation techniques were available to him for the questioning of captured Taliban military leader Abdul Ghani Baradar:

Whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside....Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables. They don't go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility. Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works.

Conservative Mike Potemra, responding at National Review to critics who insist that he offer a clear definition of what he considers torture:

Instead of trying to find a definition, and to get everyone to agree to it, I ask myself the following, about any given interrogation practice: “If agents of Fidel Castro’s regime, or of China’s laogai, engaged in this activity, would I condemn it as torture?” That, I think, is the wisest course, because asking this question prevents me from endorsing acts that might be evil simply because it may be in my own self-protective interest (as an American who doesn’t want to be injured or killed in a terrorist attack) to do so.

As Potemra says, it isn't hard to define torture if you're honest with yourself. And as Petraus says, it isn't hard to figure out that regardless of whether or not it produces short-term gains, torture nearly always plays into your enemies' hands in the longer run. The case against torture is both profoundly moral and concretely pragmatic and always has been.

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