Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret.) responds to the discussion of torture in last night’s presidential debate. Hutson served as the Navy’s Judge Advocate General from 1997 to 2000. He is currently the President and Dean of Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, New Hampshire.
It is unfortunate that any presidential candidate would promote torture as the solution to the challenge of terrorism. When candidates assert that they would, as commander in chief, authorize the commission of war crimes such as “waterboarding” — a form of mock execution — they reveal a surprising lack of understanding of and respect for the laws and values that our men and women
in uniform risk their lives to defend. Some candidates clearly understand and articulate the importance of adhering to our laws and values in the treatment of prisoners but for others, clearly greater education is needed. A number of distinguished retired military leaders have begun meeting with candidates so they become better informed about these issues. We intend to continue this work until every candidate seeking to be Commander in Chief has heard and understands the views of those who have served our nation.
As General David Petraeus said recently in an open letter to the troops, “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone “talk;” however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.”
People are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained six years ago on 9/11 and, fed by what they see on television and in the movies, they are naturally drawn to the collective fantasy that torture in a ticking time bomb situation can spare us from suffering such an attack. But the job of the next president, as commander in chief, is to lead the Nation away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp.
The overwhelming consensus among members of America’s armed services is that policies authorizing torture and cruel treatment are not only morally wrong, they jeopardize our national security. These policies undermine the moral authority this country needs to confront terrorism effectively and puts American service members deployed abroad at increased risk, now and in future wars. The top lawyers from every branch of our armed forces have testified to Congress that waterboarding and other such abuses constitute inhuman treatment and violate our laws. One year ago, 49 retired military leaders wrote to Congress: “If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized or considered permissible under a restrictive interpretation of Common Article 3, we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American prisoners.” Colin Powell said that such policies would “put our own troops at risk.” Those who aspire to hold the Nation’s highest office should be attentive to these views, which are based on decades of military experience. When we signal that our core values are negotiable, we blur the distinction between us and our enemies and forfeit our greatest asset in the struggle against al Qaeda — our ideas. The next President of the United States must demonstrate that he or she understands this, and pledge to put an end to torture and cruel treatment.