05/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There Must Be Consequences

It's hard to calculate the damage that has been done by the Bush administration-approved interrogation policy. The ill-advised and immoral practices that have come to light are intolerable. The United States, from before its founding under the leadership of George Washington, enforced a moral imperative against torture. It was not only inhumane but also bad strategy and bad tactics. The proud tradition of, at least officially, being opposed to torture included the United States leadership in international agreements we didn't just sign, but helped to negotiate.

The torture policy under the Bush administration was counterproductive in the extreme. Waterboarding somebody 183 times and having a doctor monitor the oxygen level in the prisoner's blood so that they bring him right to the point of death but don't actually kill him is barbaric by any standard. These tactics, after all, were what we prosecuted people for war crimes when they were inflicted against our troops in World War II. These torture techniques were developed by mimicking what our enemies did to our soldiers in prior conflicts. They aren't just counterproductive in terms of a vague image of the United States, they're actually dangerous. My daughter in the Peace Corps is at greater risk because the degrading and brutal treatment of these prisoners has inflamed the attitudes of people who are inclined not to like us. It undercuts any moral authority we have to condemn, much less prevent, brutal treatment of the United States civilians or soldiers.

As the stories come out of the mistreatment -- not just torture, but death of people in American custody -- we should be systematic, thoughtful, and dispassionate about a full accounting. While I'm open to the president's idea of a commission, I think Congress should be involved with investigations by the appropriate committees. There is behavior that was quite possibly illegal. It was possibly against the law. I think it was unethical for the legal personnel and they violated their professional oaths of responsibility. If so, then they should be disbarred or, in the case of those on the bench, impeached. There were clearly illegal activities not operating under clear guidance. Criminal prosecution would be in order through our legal system.

Not everyone involved is guilty of these intolerable practices. One of the most important mechanisms of a commission or legislative activity would be to spotlight men and women of principle and integrity who refused to go along. It is important to acknowledge people who did their duty, because we're coming to find out that many people stepped up and did the right thing.

Some argue that in this already hopelessly partisan and bitterly divided Congress, in a 24-hour news cycle, and a desperate search by the extreme right wing to rediscover some sort national cause, that this would be divisive. I think ignoring it is worse than divisive in terms of consequences. Divisiveness didn't stop the other side as they formulated and followed disastrous torture policies that have already divided us in our country, divided dedicated professional public- servants, and divided us from our friends and allies around the world.

At minimum, I hope we can accelerate the current process of exposing the cleansing light of truth. This will provide the public with more information to help form a judgment and perhaps, consensus, that once and for all the United States shall torture no more.

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