Americans love to argue, don't we? There's no issue, political or cultural, about which serious, well-intentioned observers will not resort to calling their opponents nincompoops and other less pleasant epithets. We've gotten to see this dynamic in action again over the past week, thanks to the Obama administration's decision to release some previously classified memos about the United States' treatment of incarcerated terror suspects.
The controversy has taken many forms. In short: The administration released numerous memos in which advisers to the Bush White House debated what they called "enhanced interrogation techniques." In some quarters, this has been seen as welcome transparency from President Obama. Others think that the release of documents pertaining to national security may actually weaken it.
People argue about what the memos really mean: Are they a justification of torture by U.S. interrogators? Are they proof that Americans didn't torture prisoners, in the strictest legal sense? If American officials did use torture, then isn't turning our backs on the very principles we're defending? If not, could it be said that they did everything they could to prevent future attacks?
The debate has also moved on to the question of efficacy. Most people seem to agree that torture doesn't work as an interrogation tactic, because when you are torturing someone, they will tend to tell you whatever you want to hear in order to get you to stop torturing them. On the other hand, in a hypothetical "ticking time-bomb" scenario, in which all that stands between a city and nuclear disaster is one stubborn terrorist, who among us would object to the use of any means necessary to stop it?
I'll just say this: It's distressing that we are discussing whether torture works, and not whether it's right or wrong.