The Corrupt Logic of Torture

This is an image obtained by The Associated Press which shows a detainee standing on MRE boxes with a hood over his head in l
This is an image obtained by The Associated Press which shows a detainee standing on MRE boxes with a hood over his head in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)

Today the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on its more than five years of investigation into what Senator Dianne Feinstein, on the floor of the Senate, called "torture" during the Bush Administration.

Yes, the report shows, the United States tortured. But it is not just the CIA that needs to be held to account.

The whole corrupt logic of torture needs to be confronted by our nation.

In order to torture, you have to accept that you are justified in inflicting an extremity of pain on another human being who may in fact be innocent.

To do this, the torturer has to believe that the object of torture is not a person, and has no rights even to innocence until proven guilty by the words tortured out of the mouth of the detainee him or herself.

Do you see how corrupt this notion is? There is no such thing as innocence and thus an Iraqi, or a child, or a teenager or a man selling cigarettes is deserving of whatever authorities do. The authority is deemed innocent because they are only protecting national security or public security or whatever name you want to give to deluded self-righteousness.

What our nation has done, and has done not only at Abu Ghraib or at rendition sites, but also on the streets of Ferguson and Staten Island and on many other streets in our own country, is to accept a theological division of people into "the guilty" and the "innocent." Guilty from the start. Guilty from the get-go. None of those niceties of "innocent until proven guilty."

This is why torture is so profoundly corrupting to those who torture and to the nation that authorizes it. In order to have a vigorous notion of human dignity and a living understanding that all human beings are the marvelous works of the Creator, you have to actually be able to see others as human. Torture undermines that. Torture eviscerates human dignity because it reduces the one tortured to a thing, a means to an end. Torture is called "inhuman" for this reason. It is a moral atrocity.

The Senate report shows this in some detail. The techniques used were far more brutal than the CIA has ever admitted; waterboarding and sleep deprivation went on ""in near nonstop fashion for days or weeks at a time." In one facility, a detainee was said to have died of hypothermia after being held "partially nude" and chained to a concrete floor, while at other times, naked prisoners were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched. Detainees were placed in "ice water 'baths.'" Sexual threats were used, both to detainees and to their families.

So yes, it was torture. The 1975 UN Convention on Torture defines torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtained from him or a third person information or a confession."

The report is quite damning on a number of points, including the fact that these techniques were developed, operated and assessed by outside contractors, namely two psychologists, of whom "neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have any specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise."

So not only torture, but inept torture at that.

The report focuses heavily on making the case that the use of these interrogation techniques (torture) was ineffective from an intelligence standpoint. Point #1, in fact, is about this case, and states "The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees."

Let me be clear. It does not matter, from a moral and ethical standpoint, whether the torture produced good or bad or no intelligence. All the actionable intelligence in the world could be best obtained from torture and it would not matter.

Torture is wrong and it is always wrong.

Actually, the clearest theological condemnation of torture comes from those who have interrogated and who have seen what torture does, not only to the tortured, but to those who torture.

Jane Mayer, in her extensively researched book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals quotes Daniel Coleman, an ex-FBI agent who worked closely with the CIA. Coleman argued in vain for traditional methods of interrogation including gaining the subject's truth and affording them due process. The latter was especially effective, argued Coleman.

"The lawyers show these guys there's a way out... It's human nature. People don't cooperate unless they have some reason to." But after 9/11 Coleman saw that everything, including legality, had changed and that whatever they did, including extraordinary brutality, was not only legal, it was acceptable. Coleman knew differently. "Brutalization doesn't work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul."

Yes, that's what has happened to us as a nation. Soul murder.

We must begin now to try to recover a sense of the human dignity of all people. All human beings are the marvelous works of the Creator, with equal dignity and worth.

In addition, we must give up the self-righteous attitude that leads us down the perilous moral path into believing that any act is justified that "keeps us safe."

I truly pray that the release of this report will be a turning point, an opportunity not only to look at what happened during the Bush Administration, but also to take a hard look at ourselves today.

We as Americans must reject the corrupting logic of torture, with its dangerous assumptions of guilt and innocence, and work hard to see every other person as a human being first, with infinite dignity and worth.