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Editorial: U.S. must defend itself, but torture is not the way

“That’s not who we are.”

– President Barack Obama

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report released Tuesday details the depths to which the Central Intelligence Agency reached in its efforts to coerce terror suspects to reveal secrets and potential plots against the United States in the wake of the 911 attacks.

And Obama is correct: That’s not what America is.

Indeed, the shocking report discloses what will certainly go down as a dark and hidden period in U.S. history. It gives the U.S. a black eye in the world community and our enemies ammunition for retaliation – not that they ever seem to need any reasons.

Interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and tight confinement were authorized by the Justice Department in 2002. But, the report says, CIA tactics went beyond what was approved by former President George W. Bush. It says the CIA misled top U.S. officials and Congress about the full extent of its treatment of detainees and the effectiveness of the program. The CIA did not brief Bush with details until 2006, the report says.

Some Republicans and current and former CIA directors say the tactics did help stop attacks here and abroad, capture terrorists and save American lives.

But that raises the troubling question posed by the debate: Does success derived from immoral acts make those acts moral? The answer is no, which is why Americans should find them revolting. Which is why they are not who we are. Or at least not who we aspire to be.

Still, at its core, the 525-page summary of a classified, 6,700-page investigation raises questions of how a society that functions under rules and laws can protect itself from ideological groups that have none and are bent on our destruction. Militants operating under a perverted view of Islam – al-Qaida then and Islamic State now – openly torture, behead and commit suicide in acts of mass murder.

The report shows that Americans are due for honest, thoughtful, nonpartisan discussion on modern warfare. This should not only cover enhanced interrogation (torture), but also targeted killings (assassination) and new technologies such as drones and robots that often kill and maim “innocents” in the area of the target. While Obama and many supporters say they abhor the former, they embrace the latter.

As a nation we must reach some consensus on the moral issues surrounding the War on Terror, and that’s what it is, separate from the heat of battle or the emotions that naturally follow an unprovoked attack.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.