Washington, D.C.—Forty-two of the nation’s most respected retired generals and admirals today publicly released a letter sent to all candidates for president urging them to publicly reject the use of torture as it is illegal, counterproductive, and detrimental to national security. The letter was sent to candidates in September 2015.
“Torture is unnecessary. Based on our experience—and that of our nation’s top interrogators, backed by countless studies—we know that lawful, rapport-based interrogation techniques are the most effective way to elicit actionable intelligence,” wrote the generals and admirals. “But torture is actually worse than unnecessary; it is counterproductive and undermines our national security.”
Last year, Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Feinstein (D-CA) sponsored landmark anti-torture legislation that reinforces the United States’ ban on the use of torture, including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The legislation—which passed in a 78-21 vote in the Senate and was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2016 Fiscal Year—is a historic victory in the fight to reestablish a durable, bipartisan consensus against torture.
The amendment passed the Senate with the support of a broad bipartisan majority, which included the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence, armed services, homeland security, foreign relations, and judiciary committees.
“I cannot overstate the damage that the use of torture has done to our national security,” said retired Marine Corps General Charles Krulak. “But this is more than just about national security. This is about who we are as a nation. American values do not twist in the wind based upon the values of our enemies. Our nation was founded on sacred principles of honor, decency, and a love of the rule of law. If we, as Americans, walk away from our core values, then who are we? The concerning rhetoric we’ve heard recently is out of step with what national security and military experts know to be true about torture.”
Signatories of today’s letter are part of a larger group of retired generals and admirals who speak out against torture and work to ensure that U.S. policy reflects a single standard of prisoner treatment consistent with the Geneva Conventions. The group worked closely with Senator McCain in 2005 to pass the Detainee Treatment Act which banned torture and limited lawful interrogation to techniques listed in the Army Field Manual. In 2008 they shared their insights with eight Presidential candidates from both parties that torture does immense harm to the reputation of the United States and undermines efforts to combat terrorism. More recently, they supported Senators McCain and Feinstein in their effort to pass the anti-torture amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, mentioned above.
“George Washington admonished his soldiers that anyone engaging in torture ‘bring[s] shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.’ Ronald Reagan pressed the Senate to ratify the Convention Against Torture, stating that the United States must clearly express her will to ‘bring an end to the abhorrent practice of torture,’” wrote the generals and admirals. “We urge you to stand with these leaders and make clear that you oppose the use of torture and cruel treatment of prisoners.”