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The Cancerous Rot at the Center of the Empire

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In obvious response to growing calls for the prosecution of Bush administration personnel who tortured people or who authorized the torture of people, former Vice President Dick Cheney has called on the CIA to declassify information showing that that the torture delivered “good” intelligence. Maybe he is referring to the 183 times that the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or to the 83 times the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubadah.

My question is: Why limit torture to suspected terrorists? Why not expand it to suspected murderers, drug dealers, robbers, and kidnappers? After all, can’t those types of people commit just as heinous an act as terrorists?

Consider, for example, the drug dealers along the U.S.-Mexico border. They’re killing law-enforcement officers, judges, and other public officials. Suppose the U.S. military or Border Patrol takes a suspected drug dealer into custody. What would be wrong with torturing him into providing information about plans to kill government officials? Wouldn’t this information be just as valuable as information extracted from a suspected terrorist?

Couldn’t the same be true of suspected kidnappers? Wouldn’t the forcible extraction of information help save the life of a kidnap victim? What would be wrong with torturing the person into telling where the victim is being held?

There are, of course, solid and important reasons why it would be wrong, both legally and morally, for U.S. law-enforcement officers to torture criminal suspects in their custody.

For one thing, the U.S. Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land that controls the conduct of government officials, bars government agents from inflicting cruel and unusual punishments on people. It also protects a person from being forced to give information that might tend to incriminate him.

Secondly, in the United States the American people, through their elected representatives, have, by statute, made it a criminal offense, for law-enforcement officers to torture or abuse criminal suspects.

Third, as a moral matter, ever since the founding of our nation the American people have stood squarely in opposition to the power of government officials to torture people, no matter how heinous the crime and no matter how valuable the information that they might be able to disclose.

Finally, there is always the distinct possibility that a criminal suspect might be innocent or might not posses the information that the torturer is seeking.

Several years before 9/11, I visited The Torture Museum in San Gimignano, Italy. It was the most gruesome place I have ever seen in my life. Here are two links that give you an idea of what the place was like, but don’t click on them unless you’re prepared to see some horrible methods by which government officials have tortured other people, including a depiction of waterboarding in medieval times: http://www.corkscrew-balloon.com/balloon/98/siena/img/torture.html http://www.corkscrew-balloon.com/balloon/99/siena/torture.html

As I was walking through that museum, the last thing I would have ever figured was that a time would come when there would actually be a national torture debate in the United States, one in which people were actually debating whether torture should be permitted along with the relative “benefits” of torture. For that matter, it was the last thing I would have ever thought would be considered when I was taking civics and social studies classes in the public schools I attended as I child.

The fact that a torture debate is even taking place in the United States of America convinces me more than ever that it isn’t external enemies that ultimately bring down an empire. Instead, it’s the cancerous rot that the empire produces from within that ultimately destroys the moral foundation of the society.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.