TORTURE….I don’t write much about torture these days because the whole subject just makes me ill. I know that’s a lousy excuse. I’m sorry. But if I’d tuned in to Tuesday’s Republican debate and heard the crowd hooting and hollering as the candidates played “can you top this” over who was most willing to take up the mantle of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, I probably would have lost it. It’s not just that it’s depraved, it’s demagogic, and it’s depressing, but also that it’s dimwitted. Macho talk about torture may be a great applause line on the right-wing rubber chicken circuit, but it does nothing to make us safer.

Today in the Washington Post, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and a former commander of CENTCOM explain why:

It is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

….As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture — only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works — the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real “ticking time bomb” situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of “flexibility” about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone — the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

….This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

Even if basic considerations of morality don’t sway you, the fact that torture and abuse contribute to eventual defeat on the battlefield should. That’s more important than winning a few more votes from the troglodyte crowd.

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