Following the attacks of September 11th, the U.S. government authorized torture in the name of fighting terrorism. Not only did the CIA use water-boarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques; government and military leaders gave interrogators license to “take the gloves off.”
The disastrous results of this policy of official cruelty became vividly clear in 2004, with the release of the Abu Ghraib photos. It inflicted widespread suffering, damaged the credibility of the United States, and handed a PR victory—and many new recruits—to Al Qaeda.
Knowing this unique threat to American ideals required a unique response, we assembled a coalition of more than 50 retired generals and admirals, who know firsthand that the best national security policies are those that respect human rights. To make the case that torture is not just immoral and illegal and harmful to U.S. security, these military leaders took to the airwaves and the op-ed pages. And they traveled the country meeting with politicians and candidates.
The military leaders changed the debate—and U.S. policy—on torture. President Obama said these military leaders made an “extraordinary impression” on him. That’s why they were standing behind him—literally—in the Oval Office when he signed an executive order banning torture in 2009.