02/24/2006 01:28 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fight The Torture Crowd – Because America's Better Than That

Tony Blankley has written a love letter to Alan Dershowitz for his new book, which argues the case for torture as an instrument of state. The pro-torture crowd should be opposed by all Americans, right and left, who still believe in our country's core principles. It comes down to one simple question: Do we still have what it takes to be a free and just people?

Sure, they dress it up in fancy rationalizations and some obligatory breast-beating about the horror of it all (although that part doesn't seem to last too long). But the core of their pro-torture argument (and that of fellow travelers like Charles Krauthammer) always comes down to this in the end: If we stick to our fundamental principles as Americans, somebody - maybe me - might get hurt.

There are five reasons why Americans on the left and right should oppose their arguments:

1. The scenarios they used to justify they arguments are artificial, not reality-based.
2. It won't work; in fact, it will be counterproductive.
3. It's un-American, in the most profound sense of the world.
4. It means the terrorists have won.
5. It's immoral.

Now let's take them one at a time. (Are my arguments all new? Of course not. Fundamental principles rarely are.)

Artificial scenarios:

The "ticking bomb" scenario, where "1,000,000 people" will die unless we torture the information out of a terrorist right away, isn't reality-based. I've been writing about the possibility of nuclear terrorism (greatly amplified by Administration incompetence), and it's true there is a lot of loose fissionable material out there - thanks to some inept management (and kleptocratic outsourcing) at the Defense Department.

But a) where and how would we find such a terrorist, b) would we know he's the right one, and c) how would we know the bomb was "ticking"? The answers: a) we don't know - probably by torturing some other guy first (which renders the whole hypothetical example meaningless); b) we'd have to take another terrorist's word for it, and c) gosh, we couldn't tell ya. Can we get back to you on that?

In real life, therefore, what they're arguing for is the right to torture indiscriminately based on the possibility - however remote - that some fuse of some kind is ticking somewhere. This "scenario" is really an invitation to widespread torture.

But if they're right and the bomb is "ticking," by definition you would only have a short period of time to torture your confession out of the terrorist (assuming you have the right guy.) He just has to tell you plausible lies for a few hours - something that happens all the time when torture is applied - and then the deed is done.

Question: Would you sell your country's moral character as a decent, law-abiding nation on such a flimsy and unrealistic scenario? Blankley and Dershowitz would.

Many torture supporters like Krauthammer start with the "ticking bomb" shell game and, if you fall for it, move you to the next step. "Once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw," says Krauthammer, "all that's left to haggle about is the price." What Krauthammer et al. fail to mention is that the line is from a crude and misanthropic Shaw joke, whose punchline suggests that even the most upper-class "lady" is really a whore at heart.

Prof. Dershowitz, Mr. Blankley, Mr. Krauthammer: My America is nobody's whore.

It won't work - in fact, it will be counterproductive:

Those who work in the intelligence community agree that, by and large, torture is a lousy way to collect information. Larry Johnson speaks for many intelligence professionals in his assessment of the poor nature of information gathered this way. Torture has a great attraction for certain "armchair inquisitors," but the professionals disdain it as messy and ineffective.

It will, in fact, make us less safe. Once we proclaim ourselves a nation of torturers, our reputation will be stained even further. Once we begin to torture openly, the practice will spread like wildfire - even more than it has already. Look what's happened in the past few years. All it took was some pro-torture memos from the Justice Department and we descended to the grotesqueries of Abu Ghraib and the rest of the American Gulag.

The more we torture Muslims, some of them innocent, the more foot soldiers the terrorists will recruit. And our danger level will rise, not fall.

It's un-American:

Our country was founded on some core values and principles. Even now, after the stain the Bush Administration's actions have left on our country's honor, there are many around the world who still recognize and admire us for our core principles. The moral and political force of those principles is what Gary Hart calls America's "Fourth Power." I've seen in my own travels that this power, though battered, is still potent.

I would argue that Sen. Hart's "fourth power" is also what vitalizes us as a nation here at home. It is, or should be, the heart and soul of what motivates us to act collectively for the common good. To trade that power source away for a vague perception of short-term expediency is a grave mistake. It's simply un-American, in that it betrays the values that make us who we are.

The terrorists win:

"The terrorists win."An over-used and widely satirized phrase, perhaps because the President and his supporters seemed to use it to justify everything from tourism to consuming mass quantities of cheap consumer goods. But it applies here: If we succumb to this torture argument, the terrorists really do win. They will have accomplished what the Soviets, the Nazis, and the War Between the States failed to do: They will have caused us to betray our core principles.

It's immoral:

Torture is wrong. Period. Civilized people don't do it. Am I old-fashioned? Fine. Then I'm more conservative on this issue than my opponents. I want to "conserve" the values of Western civilization, which preclude torture as an instrument of state. Even if banning torture made us less safe - which I don't believe - there are some things that are worth the risk.

Our civilization, our values, and our way of life? They're worth the risk.

That's why I hope that conservatives as well as progressives will join us in resisting this unwise, unethical, and fundamentally un-American argument for torture. Staunch conservative John McCain wavered on principle during the 2004 election (my partisan side may remind him of that in 2008), but he's back on the case now. All Americans who value what this country stands for should join like-minded conservatives and progressives in fighting the terror crowd.

We are a better people than this. Let's show the world and the folks back home what we're made of.

A Night Light