William H. Taft IV


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When the subject is torture, opera fans like me think of Puccini's Tosca, in which the hero, Cavaradossi, is tortured for refusing to reveal the hiding place of a colleague. Nearby is Tosca, Cavaradossi's lover, who is horrified by Cavaradossi's screams of agony and divulges the secret he is trying to keep. Things get worse. When Scarpia, the torturer, tries to rape Tosca, she kills him. Finally, Cavaradossi is executed, and Tosca commits suicide, vowing to avenge herself on Scarpia in the next world.

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Tosca says it all. Torture can have fatal consequences for everyone involved in it. Victims of torture often harbor dreams of revenge, unable to forgive someone who has not only hurt them but also robbed them of human dignity. Attempted rape is commonplace among torturers, whose stock in trade is the abuse of power over others and a freedom to indulge in sadism. Normally nonviolent people who would never think of hurting others and have no interest in politics—"Vissi d'arte, vissi
d'amore ... "
—can, when confronted with torture, be driven to kill in order to protect or avenge themselves and those they love.

Puccini's opera is a sublime piece of music. It's also a timeless reminder of the price that is paid for what some call enhanced interrogation.

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William H. Taft IV served as general counsel and deputy secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and as the chief legal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2001 to 2004.  
 
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