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Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster Headshot

With Bin Laden's Death, Torture Is Still Not The Answer

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Since the death of Osama Bin Laden on Sunday, the architects of the torture program have rushed to resurrect their claim that enhanced interrogation techniques protected our nation in the aftermath of 9/11. Disregarding the absence of clear facts and overeager to justify an illegal operation, Jonathan Yoo, Jose Rodriquez, Marc Thiessen, Donald Rumsfeld, and others have claimed credit for capturing bin Laden by the use of waterboarding and other acts of torture on high-level detainees during the Bush Administration. In their minds, their despicable acts have been vindicated.

But the truth is that torture did not help America find Osama bin Laden. And torture did not keep us safer. It created enemies, passionate enemies, who feel compelled to respond to the degradation and inflicted pain. It is well accepted that the pictures of Abu Ghraib were used as a recruiting tool by al Qaeda since they became public in 2004. News of the torture program has also cost us the good will of potential allies in the search for bin Laden, who could have helped us locate him years earlier.

Torture debases the persons tortured, as well as the torturers, and it violates the basic tenets of all major religions. It is illegal and it is immoral. As the Statement of Conscience of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture states, "Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear ... It contradicts our nation's most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable."

There are two truths that are common to most people of faith: that every human being is created in God's image and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, the innumerable variations on the Golden Rule.

Being created in God's image is not trivial sentiment. If one takes God seriously, as Americans of faith do, then one has to take the image of God seriously, to recognize every person, even one's enemy, as sacred. Torture desecrates the image of God found in the victim. Not even our own survival permits us as a nation to torture, because if we desecrate the image of God to do so, then we have survived as monsters.

But the Golden Rule is also a powerful moral compass. We cannot do to our enemies what we would not want done to our own troops. Indeed, Americans of all religious backgrounds are less likely to support the use of torture when they understand that it permits those who would harm us to inflict these techniques on American soldiers.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in response to the horrors of the Second World War. It begins with the sacredness and equality of all human beings, stating: "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world." Article 5 prevents the use of torture and the Convention Against Torture, signed by 77 countries including the United States is a result of that Declaration. It prohibits the use of torture under all circumstances, without exception. Indeed, torture regarded in international law as so reprehensible that it is akin to genocide or slavery. But the proponents of torture now claiming success restricted the American legal understanding of torture to allow for a range of illegal interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

In the days after 9/11, we were told that the world had changed and that the gloves needed to come off in dealing with our enemies. Appealing to moral values, to the values that have held in the United States since the Revolutionary War (when George Washington would not torture British prisoners) is painted as weak. But it is actually a sign of strength, a counterbalance of the impulse for revenge. Acting out of revenge is easy. Finding God in every human being is hard.

The proponents of the Bush torture program still do not understand that torture was not -- and is not -- the answer to keeping America safer. They cannot use bin Laden's death as a cover for having permitted the United States to break American and international law on the use of torture. This is the time to establish a government-sponsored Commission of Inquiry with full subpoena power to let the public know the full extent and consequences of the torture program. The vehemence of the proponents' support for the torture program and the lack of a complete record of what the United States government did in the secret prisons, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram demand a full accounting. The supporters of the Bush torture program should welcome a Commission of Inquiry. If they believe what they say, they should not be afraid of the facts. We all deserve to know the truth about torture.

Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster is Director of Education and Outreach for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and a member of the board of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Around the Web

Torture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Torture | American Civil Liberties Union

Torture | Law | guardian.co.uk

UN Convention Against Torture

Bin Laden Raid Revives Debate on Value of Torture - NYTimes.com

News Desk: Bin Laden Dead, Torture Debate Lives On : The New Yorker

Michael Scheuer -- Osama, Obama and Torture - washingtonpost.com

Osama bin Laden's death may reignite torture debate - Political ...