Richard Cohen, big liberal columnist for the Washington Post, makes the following (to my mind) completely misguided observation:
If the threat of torture works — if it has worked at least once — then it follows that torture itself would work. Some in the intelligence field, including a former CIA director, say it does, and I assume they say this on the basis of evidence. They can't all be fools or knaves. This is also the position of Dick Cheney, who can sometimes be both, but in this, at least, he has some support.
America should repudiate torture not because it is always ineffective — nothing is always anything — or because others loathe it but because it degrades us and runs counter to our national values. It is a statement of principle, somewhat similar to why we do not tap all phones or stop and frisk everyone under the age of 28. Those measures would certainly reduce crime, but they are abhorrent to us.
But it is important to understand that abolishing torture will not make us safer. Terrorists do not give a damn about our morality, our moral authority or what one columnist called "our moral compass." George Bush was certainly disliked in much of the world, but the Sept. 11 attacks were planned while Bill Clinton was in office, and he offended no one with the possible exception of the Christian right. Indeed, he went around the world apologizing for America's misdeeds — slavery, in particular. No terrorist turned back as a result.
To the first bolded statement, I would suggest that we are equivocating on "works." Individual people may or may not provide information that is true under the threat of torture or under torture. No one really denies that. What they deny, rather, is that we can make use of the that information as a general intelligence strategy. If we were ignorant enough to need to torture someone, then we can't really make much use or even verify the little bits of true information they may give us.
Second, as far as I know, our moral authority does not impress many. But it is a minimal standard for maintaining the respect and esteem of our allies and friends, not to mention ourselves. On the Clinton analogy, think of the reaction of the world to 9/11/01 and compare that to what it would have been on four years later.