here is a surreal quality to the discussion of torture in the United States. In a compelling survey of public opinion last summer by the American Security Project, 92 percent of Americans said they believe that the decline of America’s moral authority in the world is a serious national security issue. But when other pollsters have asked whether the United States should use torture, respondents say they are in favor of it if it will produce useful information that prevents acts of terrorism.
This suggests a moral disconnect, largely the result of misguided leadership from the White House. The president of the United States has redefined torture to allow for interrogation methods that were previously considered criminal. He has opened up a debate among Americans over whether the United States should use torture. Organizations from the UN to Amnesty International have regularly complainedjustifiablyabout the way America treats its detainees in the war on terror. In the battle for hearts and minds around the world, this is a devastating defeat.
As an officer in the United States Army, I saw firsthand that America was not just a great nation, but a good nation. We were able to protect our national security, and enhance it, by living up to the highest ethical standards. Torture was the purview of our enemies, not a tool to be reached for in desperate times.
In the struggle between good and evil, there is no neutral ground. Torture is evil, no matter who uses it. If we are to be a nation of laws and values again, we must reject the notion that the ends justify the means. To tolerate torture is to betray America’s heritage in favor of the primitive impulse that might makes right. We are better than this. After World War II, we prosecuted Japanese officers who tortured American prisoners with the waterboard. Indeed, during the Spanish-American War, the United States prosecuted its own officers for torture, in this case the waterboarding of guerillas in the Philippines.
In keeping America safe, what we will do is important, but so is what we won’t do. The public understands this, but Americans are also afraid. They need leaders who will help them to overcome such fear, not leaders who will prey on it. Our security depends on our ability to emerge from these dangerous times with our values intact and our moral authority restored. That will only happen when the next American president emphatically and unequivocally rejects the use of torture.