Why does tough interrogation get such a bad rap in the US? Certainly, much of the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib was senseless and shameful, but this should by no means push the US to tone down its interrogation techniques.
One commonly hears this protest: “How can anyone take seriously US pronouncements on human rights in light of how it treats its own prisoners?” At best, this is rather flimsy logic. In times of war, an army’s chief objective almost always involves killing its enemy. Why is killing OK in war, but tough interrogating—which is less terminal than killing—to gain strategic advantages not?
But what if the tortured prisoner had no valuable intelligence to begin with? The nature of war, even a just war, makes collateral damage unavoidable. General Sherman’s statement “War is hell” was prescriptive as much as descriptive.
There are plenty of documented cases where intense interrogation has yielded crucial information, so the onus is on the dissenters to explain why torture should not be used. What worthwhile value or moral principle does an anti-interrogation stance promote? And why—in the political world of value tradeoffs—does that principle outweigh the advantages that tough interrogation has been known to produce?