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A Line That Can't Be Moved

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Americans are being asked to live with such inconveniences as longer lines at airports to help thwart terrorist attacks. But when it comes to setting limits on civil liberties, more debate using sound principles is required.

As the Bush administration moves to restrict liberties, there's one path that should not be taken: the use of torture to extract information from suspected terrorists or accomplices.

Physical coercion of suspects with possible knowledge of planned mass killings is used by many countries. But the US legal system rejects torture as a tool for police or prosecutors. To use torture would be to erode the rights and freedoms that make this country precious to its citizens.

Still, the argument is being raised that these are unprecedented times. If a detained person - such as someone being held indefinitely as a material witness - might have information that could prevent another terrorist attack, wouldn't a measure of coercion be justified? Or, to avoid legal and moral strictures on torture here, how about transferring the suspect to another country known for harsh interrogation? Or forced administration of a so-called "truth serum"?

Even these "moderate" options, which reportedly have been debated inside the government, raise questions about when they're moral or even effective. Information obtained by coercion is as often false as true.

It's worth recalling the experience of another democratic country, Israel, which has had to endure regular attacks on civilians. Its legal system allows for some use of physical coercion in limited cases, but the exact limits have been hard to establish. But for free people everywhere, torture of any kind must be unacceptable.


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