I wish I could agree with his main point about the absolute immorality of torture, but I can't. I just don't think he makes a compelling case. Here's the heart of his argument:
Given the information that we have to this point, it would be false to claim that enhanced interrogation was responsible for our success in this [the bin Laden] case.I agree with everything Tollefson says here until the last paragraph. From whence does he get the notion that we have an inalienable dignity? And why is it absolutely wrong (wrong under all circumstances) to fail to respect the personal nature of a man who is plotting to kill thousands, perhaps millions? How do we respect their personal nature if we don't do everything we can to stop their murder?
But even if it were, it is imperative that we remember that this is not enough to justify the continued use of such techniques. As I and others have argued, enhanced interrogation techniques claim the greatest potential for success when employed to break down the subject, to damage his bodily and mental integrity to the point at which he has no choice but to talk (a reply often made to this is that in such a condition, men will say anything, thus calling into question the value of their testimony).
Degrees of discomfort and even perhaps pain that are short of this disintegrating level can be permissible to provide inducements—like rewards for good behavior—and some disincentives for non-compliance can be rightly applied. But hardened terrorists are likely to resist such efforts, and the temptation, as evidenced at Guantanamo and elsewhere, is to go further in forcing the compliance of the interrogation subject.
This sort of approach to the problem of interrogation, whether it is effective or not, is profoundly disrespectful to the person being interrogated or, more accurately, to the person whose treatment now approaches outright torture. Euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation” or the somewhat more honest “torture lite” seek to conceal the fundamental similarity of such approaches with what would be recognized by anyone as torture: the attempt, through debilitating pain, physical mutilation, or unendurable psychic pressure to destroy the unity, identity, and integrity of the living human subject.
But the human person — every human person — is a rational being, a child of God, and a being possessed of that radical inalienable dignity that is shared by all members of the species. To attempt to break down any person — even if only “up to a point” — is to fail to respect their personal nature in a deep way.
I've posed this scenario in the past, but it might be useful to pose it again: Suppose Mr. Tollefson's family is in a city in which a terrorist cell has planted a nuclear device. It is set to go off in five hours. Millions will be killed, including Mr. Tollefson's wife and children. The authorities have captured one of the terrorists who acknowledges that the bomb is in the city and about to go off, but he will not reveal its exact whereabouts. The authorities, in violation of the law, resort to subjecting the man to "unendurable psychic pressure" and pain until the man talks. The bomb is found and disarmed.
Mr. Tollefson is now in the following position: He has to say to his wife and children, in so many words, that although he's glad they're alive, he would rather they had been incinerated in the nuclear blast than that the terrorist have his "personal nature" disrespected. He also has to be prepared to say that the authorities who saved his children did something very wrong and should be prosecuted.
I submit that any man who could say that to his family not only doesn't deserve that family, but is moreover much like the Pharisees in Jesus' day who turned mere rules into inviolable principles. To preserve the "unity, identity, and integrity" of the man's person at the cost of allowing him to horribly murder one's own family and thousands of others strikes me as deeply and utterly perverse.