IN THE NEWS
Earlier, I posted several reasons why torture doesn't work. Today's Slate has an excellent article about the major legal reason why torture is a bad, bad idea: if we torture a suspect, whatever evidence we extract from him--evidence needed to convict him--will be inadmissable.
The war against al Qaeda isn't "a war like no other" until we've tried the normal means first. After 9/11, the Bush Administration went immediately to extraordinary means, from the PATRIOT Act to the special access program (SAP) that sanctioned "rough" interrogation. Apparently our collective memory didn't extend to the 1990s, when the normal trial courts convicted the group that bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, including Sheik Omar Abdel-Ramen and Ramzi Yousef. Rather than being impotent and obsolete, normal police and judicial procedures did the job. Somehow, a very large number of people forgot that happy conclusion.
The very real risk now is that the sanctioned torture of "high value" suspects threatens greater harm than has been done already. Assuming interrogators did get the proverbial "smoking gun" from someone in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, how could this evidence lead to a conviction? Only if the US government decides to bend and break the law even further.
I think it's time for everyone to step back from the heated discussion of the day and ask the following question:
How many terrorist attacks has the United States government thwarted since 9/11, and how many attacks did it prevent in the four years prior to 9/11??
By now, the electorate should be demanding an answer to this question--particularly in an election year. Somewhere in the files must be at least one example that, if the White House decided to release the information, would walk us through the ways in which traditional and post-9/11 procedures helped prevent bloodshed. We should also be able to look at aggregate data, like the number of suspects arrested, the number of convictions made, or the number of planned attacks stopped.
"Trust us" isn't just unconvincing--it's against the democratic spirit. An election year is the appropriate time to take stock of our real, measurable progress against terrorist groups.
If the White House can't provide this information, or if the measures of progress turn out to be worse after 9/11 than before, than Phillip Carter's argument in Slate is dead on the mark: the Bush Administration has done more to undermine counterterrorism than strengthen it.