Torture is wrong: Readers agree, even if most Americans might not

Torture is wrong: Readers agree, even if most Americans might not
President Bush, CIA Director George Tenet and others stand on the seal of the agency at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., on March 21, 2001. (Getty Images)

File this one under "Depressing Polls": A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that on the question of whether torture (or, in CIA speak, enhanced interrogation) is morally acceptable or effective, most Americans fall somewhere between "not sure" and "of course." Dismaying as the poll results are, you can't fault Americans for their lack of moral clarity when the officials charged with enforcing our laws fail to appoint special prosecutors, convene grand juries or make arrests in response to the CIA torture report -- the kind of actions that would signal torture is, you know, wrong.

The opinions of our readers have been more reassuring. It isn't often that we can take comfort in collective outrage, but when it comes to the CIA's disgraceful treatment of several dozen detainees and the agency's attempts to obscure the extent of its interrogation program, moral indignation by readers provides some cold comfort in light of Pew's depressing poll.


Over the last several days, The Times' letter writers have been nearly unanimous in their opposition to torture, a trend only marginally different from the days immediately following the release of the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, when about three dozen of the 150-plus letters we received on the topic either favored the CIA's interrogation methods or excoriated Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Since Saturday, all but two of the submissions on the topic -- most responding to an article Friday detailing two psychologists' role in assisting the CIA or to John Yoo's Op-Ed article -- have spoken disapprovingly of torture.

Here are several of those letters. (And none of this is to say we don't publish letters defending the CIA, an example of which can be found here.)

Martin Wauson of Westminster says injuring or killing an informant defeats the purpose of interrogation:

There appears to be no end to the self-delusion we are capable of when wrapped in the American flag. How can you miss the irony and hypocrisy when reading a detailed step by step action plan that left a man frozen to death? Hard to justify the use of "enhanced interrogation" when you've killed the potential informant.

Ralph Mitchell, a resident of Monterey Park, laments the participation of fellow psychologists in the CIA program:

I read with great sadness and distress about the two  psychologists who were most influential in devising and using the interrogation methods employed by the CIA on terrorist suspects. It is somewhat dismaying that practitioners of such a reputable science (I, too, am one of those) could give approval to such onerous and barbarous activities.

John Yoo, in the opinion section, tries to whitewash almost entirely the legal and moral problems with "torture,"  leaving out the pathetic freezing to death of one prisoner. According to the Senate report, none of the torture was effective.

The trends in violence and degradation, and the pathetic glorification of these abhorrent acts, are now thoroughly ensconced in our culture and now professional disciplines, egged on by the death and slaughter of others in entertainment media. What has happened as a result isn't surprising.

San Bernardino resident Thomas McGovern encourages the CIA to accept the fact that it erred:

I read that morale at the CIA is down since the release of the torture report. I say, "Suck it up."

How do you think teachers, cops, politicians, military personnel, journalists, federal employees and everyone else feels when they're criticized, justly or not? True professionals acknowledge their mistakes and make amends, while others go on the defensive and deflect blame.

The CIA has the opportunity to learn from its mistakes and regain our trust and respect, but the agency is unwilling to accept responsibility for its actions. Amazingly, the CIA and its allies cannot even admit the obvious truth: that it used torture. You have to admit the truth before you can move on.

Richard Boudreau of Marina del Rey -- a bioethicist at Loyola Marymount University -- makes the moral case against torture:

As retired Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman aptly opines about the two psychologists in this article, "Somewhere along the way they lost their moral compass."


Morally, torture cannot be justified either on deontological or on consequentialist grounds. Deontologically, torture is morally wrong, because it grossly violates human dignity. From a consequentialist perspective, it similarly fails, because its basis is hypothetical and it is not more efficient than other (legal) interrogation techniques.

Moreover, torture undermines the key foundations and values of our democratic society. The inescapable conclusion is that torture cannot be morally justified.

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