Friday, February 18, 2005 8:21 AM

No End to Torture

Last year was the year we learned that U.S. officials man military personnel had been torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and perhaps in secret detention centers around the world. And when that didn't suffice, officials flew prisoners to other countries and handed custody of them over for a while; these coutries have official policies that permit treatment of prisoners that we (officially) do not.

Could this year, 2005, be the year that we decide once and for all, to end U.S. involvement with torture? Could this be the year that we demand our political leaders put an end to these horrific practices?

Probably not. Chertoff was conformed earlier this week; Gonzales was confirmed last week. Chertoff couldn't remember some of the discussions around the torture memos that document show took place; Gonzales simply disavowed all of his previous work.

Now, it is possible that these two men are fine upstanding officials, doing their best in tough circumstances. It is possible that they do not in fact condone torture in any way and will act to oppose it in every circumstance.

But as long as there is a question about it, as long as there is not certainty, why can we not say, "Gentlemen, thank you for your willingness to serve, but it is inappropriate for persons who have even the appearance of a connection with policies that condone the use of torture, to serve as the public face of our government; I'm sure you can understand"?

There are many other ways these two can be useful public servants without putting them in positions where their apparent connection to torture casts doubt on their ability to fullfil their roles.

But no one suggested this approach. They are operating on a different set of beliefs, and I quote:

"I think there are probably very few people in this room or in America who would say that torture should never, ever be used, particularly if thousands of lives are at stake.

Take the hypothetical. If we knew that there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believed that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is most Americans and most senators, maybe all, would say, 'Do what you have to do.'"

That was Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat from NY, during a Judiciary committee hearing last year when John Ashcroft was being questioned about the use of torture.

If we aren't willing to rule out torture, then the practice will continue. Be ready for more horror stories, coming soon to a newspaper or television near you.