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American Torture: The Price Paid, the Lessons Learned

Abstract

America’s disastrous past experiences with torture—in Vietnam, Chile and Guatemala, to name a few—should have been lesson enough to deter officials from authorizing torture after 9/11. But now we have a fresh opportunity to learn some lessons. First, torture cannot be employed with strategic precision; there is institutional “creep” as the use of techniques spreads and there is the inevitable and, in the US case, immense, imprecision of torturing innocents. Second, torture is ineffective in enhancing security; on the contrary, states that do not torture (or extra-judicially execute) prisoners experience substantially less terrorism, and their counter-terrorism efforts are more effective. Third, the universal illegitimacy and illegality of torture brings disgrace to those who violate the prohibition. American torture squandered “we are all Americans” global empathy after 9/11 and invited righteous condemnation by allied foreign governments.

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