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Commentary: Torture is no longer an option

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

One of Barack Obama's first decisions as president was to ban the use of torture and coercive techniques against terror suspects. CIA Director Leon Panetta made that policy change official last week in announcing the closing of secret foreign sites used by the United States to imprison and torture detainees. The decisions will help restore America's diminished status as a nation of laws – not of men.

The change is a dramatic break from Bush administration policies, and shows that President Obama believes terrorists can be stopped without the use of torture. The idea that extreme physical punishment is sometimes necessary to stop an imminent attack became a cardinal doctrine in the Bush White House. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has used that rationale repeatedly in asserting that is why the United States has not been attacked again since Sept. 11, 2001.

Although the Obama administration is changing the CIA's rendition and torture policies, it will not investigate or prosecute agents who were involved in the programs. "This is what fairness and wisdom require," Mr. Panetta said.

President Obama and Mr. Panetta are as strongly convinced that the policies are counter-productive as Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were convinced that the techniques were necessary. The evidentiary record favors the formers' view. Examples cited by Mr. Cheney and former administration officials of getting useful information from tortured detainees don't hold up under close scrutiny. It doesn't take an interrogation expert to know that a prisoner will tell his jailer anything he wants to hear to stop excruciating pain. The best interrogators acknowledge that this is true.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.