Even though I’m hardly his biggest fan (*cough*), I gotta give Andrew Sullivan props for his recent scorching takedown of a blithely banal WaPo op-ed by High Contrarian torture apologist (and former WaPo editorial page editor) Benjamin Wittes.
Detainees [currently held at Guantanamo] who pose a grave national security threat might be unprosecutable for a variety of reasons: because of deficiencies in the criminal law as it stood in 2001, because evidence against them would not stand up in court, because the government might not have enough evidence to convict or because it obtained key evidence under coercive conditions.
“Under coercive conditions”. Excuse me, but what does that mean in English? Try: Because they got intelligence from torturing people. Coercion means force. It means they forced “information” out of them. Not coax, trick, lure, force. That means the victims had no choice. And the only way in which human beings can seriously have no choice at all is by subjecting them to such severe mental and physical pain and suffering that they have no option as human beings but to tell their torturers something.
This is the defining line of torture: not some arbitrary comic book technique, but a psychological and physical fact: pushing another human being to the point where choice becomes unavailable to him or her.
The conclusion is especially on-point:
[P]eople wonder why I seem so angry and concerned about this issue, about its centrality to this election, and about the unique, once-in-a-century chance to put it behind us before it infects us beyond cure. It is, in my judgment, the biggest single crisis we now face, because it does not simply affect our wealth or our safety, but because it affects who we are.
We cannot know hope until we end torture.