'When we fight to defend our security we fight also for an idea, not for a tribe or a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion or for a king, but for an idea that all men are endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights. How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves even momentarily.
Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.'
-- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Are we a country that will accept, condone and commit torture?
The answer seems to depend on whom you ask, and what's going on that we think we might coerce from someone.
Even before the ink dried on the Senate Intelligence Committee's Tuesday release of a 500-page summary of the 6,200-page report on the CIA's use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" against al-Qaida prisoners during the George W. Bush administration, members of Congress were dashing to grab microphones.
Some lawmakers said it was important for the report to be released so the U.S. government will never again use torture as a method of interrogation. Others postulated that it would inflame extremist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere and threaten the lives of U.S. diplomats, military members and other Americans outside our country's borders.
While the revelations of torture are not new, this report details our country's broad scope of torture practices after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The torture took place at secret detention centers in the Middle East and Asia, and, according to the report, the CIA tried to hide what it was doing from Congress and the White House.
But the study's most telling finding is this: Condone it or not, torture doesn't work.
The report concludes that the CIA's "enhanced interrogation tactics," the political euphemism for torture, failed to gather any useful information to save American lives.
In fact -- just as it does when we think of our people being tortured, harmed or murdered -- returning the favor simply breeds more entrenched hate and more determined enemies.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, called the torture "a propaganda bonanza" for our enemies. He says the real "risk" of the study's disclosure, now five years in the making, would have been in "not releasing it."
Republican Sen. John McCain, a war booster who himself was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, agreed.
"The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow," said McCain of practices that "stained our national honor."
"What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow," McCain said. "That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism. And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure -- torture's ineffectiveness -- because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much."
President Barack Obama banned the use of torture in an executive order shortly after he took office in January 2009. He also ordered the CIA to close any secret detention facilities overseas and to comply with the terms of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit "humiliating and degrading" treatment of prisoners.
"We tortured some folks," the president said during a White House news conference in August, referring to the CIA actions after 9/11. "When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be understood and accepted."
Certainly the CIA -- like police -- includes many good men and women who act in the highest way to defend our lives and our way of life. In releasing this report and accepting the lessons from it, we safeguard their honor as well as ours. They should never be asked -- as they contend they were after 9/11 -- to become as base as our enemies.
It has now been acknowledged. And it should never happen again.