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Is it torture? Try it

Mort Rosenblum is former editor of the International Herald Tribune, is the author, most recently, of "Escaping Plato's Cave: How America's Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival."

Writing an op-ed piece in the IHT "Is it torture? Try it" Rosenblum says:

"George W. Bush denies that we torture, which adds hypocrisy to our sins. His attorney general refuses to call waterboarding torture and won't rule out its use.

Whatever Americans may think, judgment elsewhere is plain. When our highest authorities excuse torture - even applaud it - it is no surprise that terrorist ranks swell, and so many people loathe us.

Even if torture did provide useful information, what is the longer term cost? By employing such terror ourselves, we lose claim to a higher moral plane.

Not long ago, I was on a Tufts University panel with a retired white South African police colonel and an African National Congress leader he used to torture. Both agreed: brutal methods eroded the policeman's humanity while it fortified the activist's resolve. The torturers lost in the end.

The debate goes on and on. I just heard Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court on National Public Radio evoke the ticking-bomb conundrum. What if a suspect has knowledge that could save many lives? Extreme methods might help in specific cases.

That's fine for a law school hypothesis, others argued, but it does not work that way. Police don't know what a suspect can tell them - or whether he is lying to escape torture.

Authorities insist that exceptional measures are reserved for very specific instances. But once torture is permitted, it becomes generalized.

For anyone not clear whether something is torture, here is a simple test: Try it. Not under controlled circumstances, when you know that it will stop. Try it for real. Find some sadist accountable to no one. Stick with it long enough to see the irrelevance of sterile debate at a safe distance. Does water actually enter the lungs? Does it matter?

What defines torture is the inner damage it causes - the indelible mark on mental circuitry.

Terrorists are out there, and we have to thwart them. This takes intelligence in all of its meanings. We need police work and tough punishment when justified. But we also must understand human reality.

If we act blindly, brushing aside perceived injustices that underpin terrorism, we face growing ranks of enemies desperate to make us pay in some dramatic fashion. If we fight evil with inhumanity, what does that make us?"

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