Was it Torture, or Value-Added Questioning?

With all the mixed signals we’ve been getting these days about the use of torture, it’s hard to know what to believe. I’ve always felt that torture was wrong, and that we shouldn’t do it except under extreme circumstances, such as to force producers of the Fox TV show 24 to stop glorifying it. (We could make them watch episodes of The Partridge Family over and over until they promise that Jack Bauer will use more acceptable interrogation methods, like maybe tickling.) But I’m starting to wonder if I’ve rushed to judgment.

Former—and for that, we are grateful—Vice President Dick Cheney insists that torture has saved countless American lives. (But then he’s the guy who said we’d be greeted as libertarians in Iraq—or was it librarians?—and he was wrong about that.)

When discussing torture, Cheney prefers to use the term “enhanced interrogation,” which sounds like a beneficial thing. “Interrogation Plus” might be another term, or “Value-Added Questioning,” and then afterward you get free air miles, or cash back. (“You’ve been very cooperative, possible terrorist. Now here’s a coupon for Ruby Tuesday.”)

So I’m left with the question: Is it a human rights issue or just a marketing challenge?

One man bravely attempting to provide an answer is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Dixie), who recently said in a hearing, “Let’s have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work.”

It’s hard to argue with that. After all, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic Church got lots of useful confessions using Enhanced Stretching on the rack. Early American Protestants successfully rid their parishes of witches with an early form of waterboarding that they called “Baptism Plus.”

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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