My esteeemed friends Tlaloc and James F. Elliott seem to believe that the U.S. government encourages or at a minimum accepts the torture of prisoners, whether military or not. There have been several investigations and courts martial delving into this issue, and as best as I—a lowly scholar—can tell, no evidence supports that assertion. To quote Andrew Sullivan—an honest and smart guy, but also a man who seems to have been driven insane by the gay marriage issue—is to avoid the issue of actual evidence actually confirmed. Is there an operationally useful definition of torture, other than a Potter Stewart adaptation? No doubt some (isolated) examples of behavior that we would agree qualifies have been perpetrated by some U.S. personnel. Under the conditions of war and pressures to obtain information, it is impossible that such outcomes would fail to be observed. That does not constitute a U.S. policy of torture. And the idea that such behavior is widespread among U.S. personnel is preposterous; that is why reports of such are newsworthy.
The rendition policy, under which certain detainees are sent to Egypt and the like for questioning, is the real problem with U.S. policy, for reasons simultaneously moral, political, and practical. War is hell and ugly things happen; that does not mean that orders to do so, whether explicit or implicit, came from on high.