It’s not as publicly debated a topic as the economy or healthcare, but the government’s policy on interrogating terror suspects deserves just as much attention from voters.
Currently, President Barack Obama mandates that interrogators stick to legal, army-approved tactics. According to an internal Romney campaign memo released this week, along with previous public statements made, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney aims to reverse Obama’s policy and go beyond these approved methods.
The next president must hold the country to a higher standard, and believe in interrogation that protects and promotes security in an ethical manner.
As shown by one of Obama’s first executive orders, the president favors a policy based on the Army Field Manual, an army-approved compilation of pertinent information and procedures that prohibits the use of torture for interrogation. This policy decision upholds the ideal that the United States, as a global leader, must hold itself to high ethical standards and cannot counter terrorism with more terror.
By comparison, Romney stated at a news conference in South Carolina last December that, “We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.” “Enhanced interrogation techniques” is a term that past administrations have made synonymous with torture. Also, in a campaign document titled “Interrogation Techniques,” Romney states that it is acceptable, even necessary, to use stricter methods against captives from whom vital information can be gleaned. He also argues that by using techniques that are published in the Army Field Manual, which anyone can access online, interrogators lose the element of surprise, ultimately rendering the system less effective .
Furthermore, Romney said at the same South Carolina news conference that he does not consider waterboarding to be torture. This is incredibly dangerous for the United States’ international image as well as the less visible, but arguably more important, preservation of ethics and human rights. Obama’s choice to keep interrogation within certain pre-approved limits and definitions is what will maintain the country’s security and ideals.
Though the anger, even hatred, felt for terrorists is understandable, it is unacceptable to stoop to their level in order to obtain information. The impact of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States cannot be overemphasized. Not only did it result in changes in airport security and counter-terrorism innovations, it altered the way many Americans view the country’s treatment of terrorists. When tragedy strikes at home, it is easier to condone acts of violence that might once have seemed unthinkable.
One valid counterargument holds that even if cruel methods of punishment are condoned, the justification for any necessary use of torture must be very strong. It must be established without a doubt that first, a prisoner possesses the information sought, second, the information is absolutely necessary to obtain and third, the information will be useful in a timely manner. But even so, too many gray areas exist within these requirements. How can you be sure a tactic will guarantee information? Are there better, less cruel methods that can be used instead?
Torture is sometimes accepted as a wrong done for the greater good. Through national despair at previous terrorist attacks, Americans can gain minimal closure by knowing the government is doing everything in its power to prevent such events from occurring again. But an even greater good is the employment of decent methods of interrogation and the setting of an ethical standard that we hope other countries will follow. Obama’s torture policy promises to maintain that.
It’s easy to forget such unpleasant topics when they do not directly affect us. But on some level, torture is not only a reflection of the next president’s ideals, but of the level of morality each American retains. As voters, it is important to realize that a vote for either candidate is a vote for a certain system of ethics as well.
Arshya Gurbani is a junior majoring in biological sciences.