Torture is wrong because it rarely works. Torture is wrong because the damage it does to us in the world far outweighs the specific information we get. Even if we get information that actually succeeds in stopping a particular attack today, we often breed legions of new terrorists tomorrow. Torture is wrong because we endanger our own soldiers when they are captured abroad, which explains why so many of our leading military officers have consistently been among the strongest advocates of adherence to international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Torture is wrong because we degrade not only the victims, but also ourselves, beginning with the young men and women ordered to carry out such treatment. When an army captain named Ian Fishback wrote to Senator John McCain begging for clear interrogation rules, he recalled that as a cadet at West Point he had resolved β€œto ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden.”

I can make all these arguments. I believe them. But what I really want is an America that will simply stand up and say, as President Bush did when he saw the Abu Ghraib photographs, that this is not who we are. That America is an idea more than a place, an idea that cannot coexist with the use of force by an all-powerful state to break a human spirit. That the men and women who fought to establish and defend that idea across the generations believed that our values were more important than life itself. If we cannot take that stand, then we are not the country I thought I knew.

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