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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Abuse of U.S. detainees sets wrong example for world

New revelations of U.S. military torture of detainees and terror suspects are disturbing — if for no other reason than the possibility of retaliation when our own soldiers are captured.

The most recent reports surfaced during the weekend, when the U.S. rights organization Human Rights Watch issued a report detailing the abuse of Iraqi detainees in Fallujah in 2003 and 2004 by soldiers; and when The Associated Press reported that documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that an obscure U.S. Navy agency known as the Navy Engineering Logistics Office secretly contracted a 33-plane fleet to fly terror suspects to other countries known to practice torture.

The Human Rights Watch report is based on interviews with a captain and two sergeants who served in the 82nd Airborne Division and said Iraqi detainees were tortured almost daily — under orders from superior officers — with baseball bats and chemicals. The policy allowed anything short of causing an inmate's death, the soldiers told the rights organization.

The NELO-chartered planes were used to transport terror suspects captured in Europe to Egypt in operations the Central Intelligence Agency terms "rendition" but some European authorities call kidnapping. Once in Egypt, the suspects told family members, they were tortured.

Authorities in Italy and Sweden have expressed outrage about the flights, which they say were illegal and orchestrated by the U.S. government.

We suppose, in a Machiavellian sense, some good could come from the operations, which are clearly violations of international law. If the intelligence gathered prevented other attacks such as those of 9-11, one might argue that the ends justified the means.

But the U.S. military use of torture at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq has thus far yielded no such gems.

The real problem with torture as a policy is that there is no way to identify the terrorists — after all, they don't walk around with the word "terrorist" tattooed on their foreheads. Officials acknowledge that the United States has held — and later released some — thousands for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is usually no way to tell the difference between those who have useful information and those who don't. And those who have nothing to tell will give up fictions in order to stop the torture.

There are obvious and inevitable downsides to torture as a policy. One could argue that no human being should ever beat or burn another, for any reason.

But if we as Americans are willing to look the other way as our soldiers and government agents abuse detainees, then we must accept the possibility that other nations will be more likely to retaliate against Americans in like manner.

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