Editor's note: This guest editorial was originally published by the the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and appears courtesy of the South Carolina Press Association's S.C. News Exchange.
Recently, a new debate has developed concerning recently released "torture memos" that detail techniques, most notably waterboarding, used by American interrogators to question suspected terrorists.
The torture memos confirmed that waterboarding, a method that makes the subject feel he is drowning, was done hundreds of times to detainees. This had been accepted as true for some time, but never confirmed quite so officially.
Members of the prior administration, former Vice President Dick Cheney chief among them, have been condemning President Obama's administration for not declassifying other memos that claim this method worked, and produced valuable intelligence.
That's not the point.
Put aside for a moment the fact that Japanese soldiers were executed after it was proven they waterboarded American soldiers in World War II, settling forever the question of whether America views waterboarding as torture. Put aside for a moment the very credible assertion by many experts that information obtained via torture is never reliable, because a subject being abused will say anything to make the abuse stop. Put aside for a moment Obama's point that it might have been possible to obtain the information through other methods.
Saying torture is acceptable if it helps us obtain valuable information is like saying robbing banks is acceptable if it helps us obtain money. Immoral acts are immoral, even when they are effective.
Cheney has asserted that Obama, by ending these extreme interrogation methods, has made America more vulnerable to terrorism. In fact, when we torture others, we give tacit moral permission to other countries and organizations to torture Americans. That's why Sen. John McCain, a torture victim himself, has always been at the forefront of the anti-torture movement in America. He knows it endangers our own soldiers, and legitimizes such techniques in a world where we are expected to set the standard for moral behavior.
America, at its best, is better than nearly every other country. It has been for nearly all its history, in nearly every way. Being better, more careful of human rights, more free and more fair has proven to be America's best plan to influence and improve the world.
Our people are happier and wealthier than the people of China, Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and most other nations on Earth because our high moral standards work, because freedom works, because the rule of law works and because, among other things, we don't torture.
Unless we want our country to be more like the terrorist and totalitarian nations and organizations we oppose, we don't need to be behaving more like those nations and organizations we are working to defeat.