THE PRAGMATIC CASE AGAINST TORTURE….Knight Ridder reports that many current and former CIA officers are actively opposed to allowing the agency an exemption that permits them to torture prisoners:

Robert Baer, a former CIA covert officer who worked in Iraq and elsewhere, said he recently spent time in an Israeli prison, talking with detainees from the radical Palestinian groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas for a British documentary about suicide bombers.

The Israelis, Baer said, have learned that they can gain valuable information by establishing personal relationships with the inmates and gaining their trust.

“They found that torture, abusive tactics, made things overall worse for them politically,” Baer said. “The Israelis are friendly with their prisoners. They play cards with them and allow them to contact their families. They are getting in their minds to determine what makes up a suicide bomber.”

…. Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations and analysis in the CIA Counterterrorist Center, said detainees would say virtually anything to end their torment.

Baer agreed, citing intelligence reports from Arab security services that yielded useless information. “The Saudis and Egyptians torture people all the time, but I have yet to see anything that helped us on the jihad movement and (Osama bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al) Zawahri,” he said.

This is the “pragmatic” argument against torture, one that I generally avoid using because it implies that if torture did work then I’d be OK with it. I wouldn’t be. Still, it’s worth spreading the truth about how poorly torture works, since there’s probably a sizable number of people who are on the fence about torture but might be persuaded to oppose it if they only understand how ineffective it is.

The more that people are forced to squarely face the issue of torture ? what it is, what it says about us, and what company we’re keeping by refusing to ban its use ? the more likely it is that their basic human decency will assert itself. The pragmatic case against torture isn’t the one I consider the most compelling, but if it helps reach some of these people then it’s a case worth making.

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