THE BLOG
12/14/2014 11:18 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2015

Why Are We Debating the Benefits of Torture?

What if Bernie Madoff argued: "Sure I broke the law, but I and a lot of other people benefitted by it!" I am astonished by the amount of time spent and pages included in the recent Senate report on torture devoted to discrediting the CIA claims that their techniques identified terrorists, prevented attacks and saved lives, and that the directors of those practices continue to defend them on that basis. Since when do we test our moral principles, our laws, our Constitution and our international treaties by determining whether or not there is some benefit in violating them?

O.K. I recognize the Bernie Madoff analogy is not particularly apt, but for the government to engage in some kind of cost/benefit analysis to justify torture is ludicrous and embarrassing. Think of the precedent it would establish if benefits served to justify violations of the law. Illegal searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment could be justified by gaining evidence of crimes and prosecuting and convicting those who are guilty. Listening in on the content of all conversations could aid in learning of past and future acts of terrorism. The list is endless. We give up something by restricting the government in its fight against terrorism, but that is the price of freedom.

The basic furor is over whether or not torture ("enhanced interrogation") led to locating and killing Osama bin Laden. The answer should be: So what. Yes, there was great benefit and satisfaction in the demise of bin Laden, but it is totally irrelevant in the moral and legal debate over the use of torture. Many Americans, if asked, would probably say that torture would have been justified if it prevented the destruction of the Twin Towers and the deaths that followed. But in getting there we may have tortured persons who were totally innocent, without knowledge or furnished false information. That is the reality of a torture program. Furthermore, we have signed on to the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It is illegal no matter what the benefit. Calling it by any other name does not change its true character. If we engage in it, we have become no different than our enemies. They see some benefit in threatening and carrying out beheadings. Is that going to be next for us because we envision some benefit to us in doing so?