In his Saturday column in the NY Times, Bob Herbert commemorated the 21st anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which was this past Thursday. He discussed the methodology and findings of Broken Laws, Broken Lives and called on the US Congress and on the American public to demand the full truth about post-Sept 11 US interrogation practices. Herbert’s closing paragraphs are especially powerful on the ramifications of US interrogation practices (emphasis added).

The sheer number of different ways in which detainees were reported to have been abused was mind-boggling. They were deprived of sleep, forced to endure extremes of heat and cold, chained in crouching positions for 18 to 20 hours at a time, told that their female relatives would be raped, that they themselves would be killed, and on and on. All to no good end.

The ostensible purpose of mistreating prisoners is to inflict pain and induce disorientation and despair, creating so much agony that the prisoners give up valuable intelligence in order to end the suffering. But torture is not an interrogation technique; it’s a criminal attack on a human being.

What the report makes clear is that once the green light is given to torture, the guaranteed result is an ever-widening landscape of broken bodies, ruined lives and profound shame to all involved.

Nearly all of the detainees profiled in the report have experienced excruciating psychological difficulties since being released. Several said that they had contemplated suicide. As one put it: “No sorrow can be compared to my torture experience in jail. That is the reason for my sadness.”

Congress and the public do not know nearly enough about the nation’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation practices. When something as foul as torture is on the table, there is a tendency to avert one’s eyes from the most painful truths.

It’s a tendency we should resist.

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