Chuck Hagel


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During World War II, U.S. Army intelligence officers at Fort Hunt, Virginia, questioned Nazi prisoners of war using ingenuity, skill, and knowledge of foreign cultures. They gleaned valuable intelligence at a time when the United States was fighting for its existence against an evil equally as menacing as that which we face today. And they acquired this information without resorting to abusive techniques, such as waterboarding, that are considered to be torture.

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In fact, until now, every previous U.S. administration and every civilized government in history has condemned the practice of waterboarding. After World War II, the American government convened war crimes tribunals that prosecuted and convicted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American prisoners of war. A century ago, the U.S. Army court-martialed American soldiers for using similar methods during the Philippine insurrection. The public acknowledgment on February 5 by CIA Director Michael Hayden that the U.S. government has engaged in waterboarding is a disgrace to America and the values we represent.

In October 2005, eighty-nine of my Senate colleagues and I voted for the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which established the Army Field Manual on interrogation as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees. The act prohibited torture and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of anyone detained by the U.S. government.

However, since then the need for a uniform, specific standard of conduct throughout the government has become clear. The DTA did not apply to all agencies, creating ambiguity in an area where there should be none. With the revelation of a separate CIA program that operates outside the bounds of acceptable interrogation techniques, the world has further questioned America's word.

We are in a war of ideas against a radical extremist ideology. Effective and aggressive intelligence operations are essential to our security. But in our effort to protect the nation, we must remember our greatest strength: the principles of human rights that we have upheld throughout our country's wars and conflicts. It is vital that the world can trust what we say and have confidence in what we do. There must be no doubt that this great nation does not torture. 

Congress, then, must explicitly define acceptable interrogation practices. I support the use of the Army Field Manual as the single, government-wide standard.

If that standard is adopted, the effectiveness of our interrogations will not suffer. Torture is not only illegal—it also does not work. I have heard from numerous military and intelligence officers—including those World War II Army interrogators—who have seen combat and know the intelligence business. They have told the Senate that coercive interrogation generates "information of dubious value," and that "revelation of the use of such techniques does immense damage to the reputation and moral authority of the United States, [which is] essential to our efforts to combat terrorism." The Army has consistently said that the techniques authorized in the Field Manual give interrogators all the tools they require.

We must be bold and innovative in the fight against terrorism and extremism. But we must also be mindful that our actions have consequences and can sometimes serve the purposes of our adversaries. One of the greatest long-term dangers America faces is that we are now mistrusted by many nations, even our allies. In poll after poll, most people around the world say the United States plays a negative role in world affairs. As General Colin Powell has warned, "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

This is not a way to keep America safe, or to build our influence for good in the world. Americans must not take the easy, morally ambiguous road. That is not who we are. The right path—at times the more difficult path—is the one that is paved with our principles and our values.

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Chuck Hagel represents Nebraska in the U.S. Senate, where he is a member of the Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.  
 
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