TWENTY-SEVEN years ago, in the final days of the Iran hostage crisis, the C.I.A.’s Tehran station chief, Tom Ahern, faced his principal interrogator for the last time. The interrogator said the abuse Mr. Ahern had suffered was inconsistent with his own personal values and with the values of Islam and, as if to wipe the slate clean, he offered Mr. Ahern a chance to abuse him just as he had abused the hostages. Mr. Ahern looked the interrogator in the eyes and said, “We don’t do stuff like that.”
Today, Tom Ahern might have to say: “We don’t do stuff like that very often.” Or, “We generally don’t do stuff like that.” That is a shame. Virtues requiring caveats are not virtues. Saying a man is honest is a compliment. Saying a man is “generally” honest or honest “quite often” means he lies. The mistreatment of detainees, like honesty, is all or nothing: We either do stuff like that or we do not. It is in our national interest to restore our reputation for the latter.
Unforgivable Behavior, Inadmissible Evidence (17 February 2008, New York Times, Guest Op-Ed, Morris Davis. The author, an Air Force colonel, was the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007.)