Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Coleen Rowley Headshot

Time to End the Torture Experiment!

Posted: Updated:

My letter was published in the New York Times yesterday under the caption, "The Uproar Over the C.I.A. and Torture":

To the Editor:

The overall idea put forth on Thursday by torture apologists that the C.I.A. and other government employees were only following Department of Justice legal opinions and essentially didn't know that waterboarding and other tortures they committed were illegal and wrong is complete nonsense. Why was torture only whispered about throughout government in hushed, embarrassed tones? Why did the F.B.I. open a "war crimes file"? Why did the news of Abu Ghraib immediately shame all Americans?

It's true, and proved repeatedly in social psychology experiments, that otherwise good people will tend to conform to authority. It's true that people, under such circumstances, often fail to listen to their consciences. But don't conflate this obedience factor with not being able to appreciate the wrongfulness.

In choosing to appease powerful interests by trying to sweep this horrible wrongdoing under the rug, President Obama undoubtedly had to overcome the pangs of his own conscience.

Coleen Rowley
Apple Valley, Minn., April 17, 2009
The writer is the retired F.B.I. agent who exposed F.B.I. lapses that led to the 9/11 attacks.

My opinion comes from lectures I've been giving all over the country on "Ethical Decision-making" which, after my "whistleblowing" experience, doubles as a warning about how easy it is to get sucked into doing bad things and/or to go along with wrongful, illegal decisions. So I always display Soloman Asch's line test and findings about this human weakness that predisposes humans towards conformity over seeing the truth.

For several years now, the American people have found themselves in the same position as social psychologist Stanley Milgram's "victims" in his famous experiment to see how many people will continue to push the button to give electric shocks to their fellow man. The original video of Milgram's experiment has been deleted from YouTube but I found this recent replication which is worth watching if you haven't seen it.

So yes, they were all following orders but just as in Milgram's experiment, they all knew it was wrong.

The NY Times does a good job again today of trying to awaken American conscience in their op-ed: "The Torturers' Manifesto."

Remember folks that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing! There are only a few perpetrators but there are a lot of us. So we CAN collectively exercise our power to stop these bad things from continuing. The good news in social psychologist Soloman Asch's and Stanley Milgram's experiments was there's always 1/3 to 1/2 of us who see the truth and choose to do the right thing. And that's plenty to stop the handful of perpetrators.

C'mon Attorney General Holder, c'mon good American people -- it's time to end the experiment!

Register To Vote