I believe it is vital for the protection of our troops in the field and our moral authority in the world that we continue to uphold a policy against torture.
We owe our military service members clear guidance on appropriate treatment and interrogation of detainees. Recent public debates over what constitutes torture have often revolved around such hypothetical questions as what the United States should do with a prisoner known to be a terrorist and who we believe has knowledge of an impending attack. Such hypothetical circumstances can be compelling in the abstract. But as a matter of national policy, we must not condone, rationalize, or practice torture or anything that resembles it.
Fundamental moral principles do apply to nations, and they must be a central element of U.S. foreign policy. No nation is more closely associated with a set of founding moral precepts than the United States, and no nation is judged more meticulously according to its own articulated values. Some advocates of a rationalist foreign policy would say that jettisoning the American moral identity would be a good thing, arguing that we could more easily exert power if we did not feel compelled to concern ourselves with debate over ethical inconsistencies, or worry that foreign nations would accuse us of hypocrisy when our actions do not live up to our historic moral values. However, this thinking is misguided. It is true that American moral traditions impose some constraints in some situations. But I believe that, ultimately, this moral identity is a source of international power that we should not relinquish.
Exercising authority in the present age requires allies and the ability to build coalitions. It is far easier to do that if the United States maintains the respect that derives from our moral traditions.