Today, the National Journal
will write an article summarising recent opposition to torture from high-profile retired CIA officers. Reasons for their opposition include: that it is inconsistent with America's identity, that it makes alliances difficult, and that it effects the officers psychologically.
Quoting from the article
Burton L. Gerber, a decorated Moscow station chief who retired in 1995 after 39 years with the CIA, surprised some in the audience when he said he opposes torture "because it corrupts the society that tolerates it." This is a view, he confirmed in an interview with National Journal last week ... "The reason I believe that torture corrupts the torturers and society," Gerber says, "is that a standard is changed, and that new standard that's acceptable is less than what our nation should stand for. I think the standards in something like this are crucial to the identity of America as a free and just society."
... A similar stance was articulated last year by Merle L. Pribbenow, a 27-year veteran of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations.
... "as Americans, must not let our methods betray our goals," he said. "There is nothing wrong with a little psychological intimidation, verbal threats, bright lights and tight handcuffs, and not giving a prisoner a soft drink and a Big Mac every time he asks for them. There are limits, however, beyond which we cannot and should not go if we are to continue to call ourselves Americans. America is as much an ideal as a place, and physical torture of the kind used by the Vietnamese (North as well as South) has no place in it."
(This may be contrasted with Naomi Klein's observation
that torture has been integral to US foreign policy since the Vietnam war, and Pribbenow's observations in the article).
Apart from America's need to feel consistent with its own ideals, Gerber also notes that this ideal is useful for forming alliances. Quoting from the article
"Foreign nationals agree to spy for us for many different reasons; some do it out of an overwhelming admiration for America and what it stands for, and to those people, I think, America being associated with torture does affect their willingness to work with us," he says.
Finally, Pribbenow uses his work on the history of the Vietnamese war to shed light on the psychology of the torturer
"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."