Lee F. Gunn

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Here are four simple truths about torture for you to consider: It is un-American. It is ineffective. It is unnecessary. And it is damaging.

Torture is un-American. Any policy of the United States that permits inhuman treatment of prisoners violates our principles as a nation and a people. Jack Bauer on the television show 24 represents a historic departure for American theater, perhaps the first prominent example of a "good guy" routinely employing torture. What does that teach impressionable viewers about our country? That under some circumstances anything goes? That desperate times call for desperate measures, and these are desperate times for the world's greatest nation? That our values can be sacrificed if we feel threatened? These are terrible lessons. Asking men and women in service to our country to torture on our behalf is repugnant, inexcusable, and completely contrary to our national values.

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Torture is ineffective. Information extracted through the use of torture is unreliable. In fact, the more severe the torture is, the less reliable the information it produces. Time and again, on the battlefield and elsewhere, other means of extracting information have been shown to work well, preserving opportunities to return to the prisoners for more intelligence. Acting on misleading information provided by a practiced informant can cost lives and squander opportunities to thwart attacks.

Torture is unnecessary. In the hands of a skilled interrogator, humane questioning and incentives can work wonders. Torture is never right for an untrained questioner on the battlefield. Nor is it appropriate for experienced interrogators who know how to work with someone who is totally under their control.

Torture is damaging. A person who is tortured is damaged, but so are the torturers, the nation, and the military. Torturers live with feelings of guilt and disturbing memories for the rest of their lives. The nation suffers a loss of reputation that leaves it, if not irreparably damaged, at least severely diminished by its refusal to abide by its espoused standards of behavior in the realm of human rights. Finally, and perhaps most important to this writer, our military is forced to operate under conditions in which our men and women in uniform on the front lines around the world are at greatly increased risk of retaliatory torture by our enemies. A colleague of mine remarked recently that most American soldiers who will be taken prisoner in future wars have not yet been born. We owe these soldiers of tomorrow our honorable behavior in interrogating the prisoners of today.

Consistent and clear guidance to everyone in service to the country is essential. It is the duty of the commander in chief and every other person in a position of responsibility to define the limits of permissible behavior and to make sure that the standards we set are ones of which Americans can be proud. And it is the duty of our government—right now—to establish unequivocal standards for interrogation to which every department and agency of the government must subscribe.

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Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is a member of the board of the American Security Project.  
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