THE ECONOMIST TAKES ON TORTURE….The Economist is a magazine that I both enjoy and respect. This week their lead editorial was titled “Is torture ever justified,” a subject I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, concluding that “Torture is barbaric and unworthy of us. We should not tolerate it. Period.”

So I opened the magazine with trepidation, but was gratified to find this:

The prohibition against torture expresses one of the West’s most powerful taboos?and some taboos (like that against the use of nuclear weapons) are worth preserving even at heavy cost. Though many authoritarian regimes use torture, not one of even these openly admits it. A decision by the United States to employ some forms of torture, no matter how limited the circumstances, would shatter the taboo. The morale of the West in what may be a long war against terrorism would be gravely set back: to stay strong, the liberal democracies need to be certain that they are better than their enemies.

George Bush has said that the fight against al-Qaeda is a battle for hearts and minds, not just a matter of military power. Though critics focus on his sabre-rattling, Mr Bush has been consistent in his claims to be defending human rights and democracy, and he has persisted in reaching out to Muslims, though he rarely gets credit for this. To keep the moral high ground, he needs to bolster public disavowals of torture by specifying the methods American interrogators can employ, by enforcing the limits, and by desisting from handing prisoners over to less scrupulous allies.

Unfortunately, the issue of official torture has gotten very little attention since the original Washington Post story about it last December, and it’s nice to see The Economist ? which has been a strong proponent of regime change in Iraq and has taken a pro-American stance on the entire war on terror ? take it out for a stroll in the sunlight.

American conservatives, who have lately prided themselves on their moral clarity, seem to have lost their voice on this issue, but as The Economist puts it, “To evade the question is hypocritical and irresponsible.” It is indeed.

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