The release of the OLC torture memos by the Obama administration last week has proven to be a deeply clarifying event in American politics. Dedicated supporters of torture have responded with a number of tired arguments in favor of torture, the most common being:
1. Waterboarding is not torture.
Waterboarding was invented by torturers as a method of torture. It does not magically become “not torture” just because America is attacked by terrorists. Leaving aside his regrettable past vote against prohibiting CIA torture, Sen. John McCain performed an important service today, stating flat-out that “waterboarding is torture, period.”
2. “Enhanced interrogations” were an effective tool in obtaining intelligence about Al Qaeda.
There is in fact no evidence — apart from the claims of people like Dick Cheney, who I think we can safely say at this point is one of the least credible people in the United States — that “enhanced interrogation” produced any actionable intelligence. All such intel was gleaned before “enhanced interrogation” began, using methods approved in the Army Field Manual, whose standards President Obama has stated will now govern interrogations. Last February, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency said torture was unnecessary, and that he believed “that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary” for conducting effective interrogations.
3. By releasing these memos, President Obama has alerted our enemies to our interrogations methods, allowing them to train to resist them.
All of the methods mentioned in the OLC memos had been publicized long before now.
Simply put, there is not credible argument for the use of these “enhanced” techniques. Whatever information they produced — and again, there’s no evidence that they produced any — is surely outweighed by their functioning as a recruiting mechanism for terrorists.
So the question that needs to be answered is: Why are so many conservatives so committed to torture?