09/15/2011 12:19 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2011

Cheney May Have No Regrets About Torture -- But We Should

This week, former Vice President Dick Cheney has come to New York to hobnob with members of the financial elite at the Rodman and Renshaw Annual Global Investors Conference and chat with the hosts of "The View." As he promotes his new memoir, "In My Time," and relishes the role of elder statesman, secure in his belief that he will not be held accountable for the actions he authorized, we must not give in to the temptation to see him as a harmless legacy of the past.

The torture program Cheney and Bush authorized in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 10 years ago was illegal according to both American and international law. The CIA's use of torture in interrogations was considerably less effective than the rapport-building techniques of the FBI, and it produced evidence that could not be used in court. And while Cheney and others defend the use of torture as a means for keeping us safe, the horrific images of torture and news of waterboarding that spread around the world helped to mobilize our enemies against us. The dark side is a dangerous place to be.

But as we reach the 10th anniversary of the event that incited the government to initiate the use of torture, we must get beyond arguments about its efficacy and legality. Laws can be -- and have been -- re-written and reinterpreted. What we have lost since 9/11 is the underlying value that there are limits on what we can do, even in the name of safety. A recent Pew poll demonstrates yet again that American support for the use of torture continues to rise, while those who feel that torture is "never justified" is an ever-shrinking group, especially among the young. We are living on the dark side.

Safety is not an end unto itself. After all, isn't remaining safe simply the first rung on a ladder of protecting all that we hold dear as a nation? Charles and Gregory Fried, in their book "Because It Is Wrong: Torture, Privacy, and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror," argue against the temptation, even in the most difficult times, to give ourselves over to the dark side. Mere survival is not enough, they state, because we have to question what we will survive as once we allow ourselves to permit the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture. We cannot survive as monsters, but torture is the work of monsters, unjustifiable under any and all conditions. I ascribe to the philosophy of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which reminds us again and again that torture breaks us as human beings, destroys our divine spark and corrupts our souls. We must continue to insist that the use of torture is never justified and contradicts out most cherished moral values as Americans.

The legacy of 9/11 must not be the dark side. Dick Cheney may have "no regrets," but for Americans of conscience, we must have more than regrets. We have a moral obligation to fully investigate our government's past use of torture, not to brush it under the rug or excuse it in the name of national security. Join me in calling for a Commission of Inquiry that fully investigates all aspects of the use of torture by the United States and demanding accountability for architects of torture like Vice President Cheney. Let us truly close out this tragic chapter in American history before we reach the next round of anniversaries.