U.S. should avoid ‘torture business’

THE SALEM (MASSACHUSETTS) NEWS

“Torture works. … And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding. … They’re chopping off heads.” — Donald Trump, Feb. 17, 2017, in Sun City, S.C.

Let’s accept for a moment President Donald Trump’s premise that torture works, ignoring neuroscience and psychological research that suggests otherwise.

The question Americans must ask is not whether torture is effective but whether our government should use it.

And the answer is clear: No, principally for two reasons.

First, it’s simply inhumane to inflict severe pain intentionally on another living being. All of our nation’s laws, and the foundation of most of our religions, is based on the principal of respect for life and a spirit of benevolence. If we lose those values, we’ll become more like the terrorists we abhor.

Yes, we should punish people who have committed heinous crimes. But the punishments should not be cruel and unusual. And the same holds true for enemies of the state. While we shouldn’t give them posh accommodations in the Trump Towers, we are compelled to treat them humanely, providing the basic necessities of food, water, clothing and shelter.

The CIA used waterboarding — a technique that simulates drowning — on suspects detained in secret foreign prisons during the administration of George W. Bush. But President Barack Obama, lawmakers and human rights groups worked together to ban the practice in 2015.

Here’s the other compelling reason that the United States shouldn’t employ torture. We should stand for what’s right and what’s good in the world, rather than resorting to barbaric tactics practiced by our enemies. We should stand on high ground, rather than stooping to the level of adversaries. We should follow international law.

President Trump reiterated that torture works, just as his administration was preparing a review of our nation’s war on terror.

As many of his comments and tweets do, this one sent shock waves across the world. Theresa May, prime minister of Great Britain, suggested that the British intelligence agency would stop working with U.S. intelligence if torture tactics were employed.

While our allies cringed, terrorists surely rubbed their hands in glee at the possibility of dragging the West into their preferred battleground, the pits of barbarism.

Trump later backed off his statement on torture, saying he would leave it to the discretion of his defense secretary nominee, James Mattis, who has previously said that he doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of torture.

But Trump’s position still is deeply troubling. He puts America first, but shouldn’t that include helping create a world where reason and kindness prevail over ruthlessness? Shouldn’t America lead the world by example?

Nils Melzer, chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, said that “without any doubt, waterboarding amounts to torture.” Melzer added that a resumption of torture by the U.S. would prompt other countries to “get back into the torture business.”

The United States should never be in “the torture business.” And, make no mistake, waterboarding is torture.

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