Guest Commentary

Matthew Rhoades: Torture is contrary to our fundamental American values

Trump’s own secretary of defense, James Mattis, told him in November that he has never found waterboarding to be useful. As a nation, we must not torture, writes guest columnist Matthew Rhoades.
Trump’s own secretary of defense, James Mattis, told him in November that he has never found waterboarding to be useful. As a nation, we must not torture, writes guest columnist Matthew Rhoades. AP

The Trump administration is considering an executive order that would, among other steps, open the door to the reinstatement of torture by U.S. intelligence agencies. This is a mistake. The administration should not move forward with the executive order because torture does not work, and it contradicts our core national values.

America’s enemies continue to plot against us. In order to defend ourselves and prevent terror attacks, we need effective, capable intelligence agencies that consistently produce actionable intelligence. Contrary to President Donald Trump’s recent claim, however, “enhanced interrogation” techniques (waterboarding, sleep deprivation, holding detainees in stress positions) fail to bring about such intelligence.

The Senate Intelligence Committee spent five years studying the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, culminating in a 6,700-page classified report that includes a 525-page declassified summary. What did they find? Enhanced interrogation techniques do not work.

Those techniques are “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.” The committee further found that the CIA never conducted a credible, comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of its program. Rather, it made inaccurate claims on the program’s efficacy.

The report’s findings are consistent with what Trump’s own secretary of defense, James Mattis, told him in November: that he has never found waterboarding to be useful.

As a nation, we do not need to do this. In his second day in office, then-President Barack Obama signed an executive order that prohibited torture everywhere and at all times. And for the duration of his presidency, no foreign terrorist organization successfully planned and executed an attack on the United States. Our enemies have continued to work to harm us, but our intelligence professionals have shown themselves more than capable of obtaining valuable intelligence in a manner consistent with the rule of law.

The results are clear. Eliciting information through torture has been neither useful nor necessary in preventing new attacks against the United States.

Furthermore, once publicized, programs that are inconsistent with American ideals have damaged America’s reputation as a force for good in the world. Paying foreign countries millions of dollars to host secret detention sites discredits America’s leadership on human rights issues. Mistreatment of individuals in detention facilities such as Abu Ghraib gives our adversaries a propaganda tool to undermine American values. History shows that this behavior is counterproductive to our interests, and we should not return to it.

As Sen. John McCain — a man who was severely tortured by the North Vietnamese — said, the question of torture “isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us.” One of the distinguishing factors between America and our enemies is that America does not torture.

As the last eight years have demonstrated, we can and should remain true to our principles as a nation because this advances both our security and our values.

America’s strength is not derived just from the overwhelming power of our military or the sheer size of our economy. It also comes from the power of our example. America has a tradition of standing strong for human rights and individual freedoms. The Trump administration should not reverse course now, especially since we know doing so will not make us safer.

Matthew Rhoades served at the Department of Defense and the National Security Council during the Obama administration. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate school.

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