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Columnist Thomas Sowell calls anti-torture legislation by Congress "madness" that "ties our hands" in dealing with terrorism (column, Nov. 23). He is wrong, for four reasons.

First, as numerous intelligence veterans have testified, torture seldom works. Under severe physical and psychological stress, people will say anything to stop the pain. We end up with false information and worthless confessions.

Second, when we resort to torture, we put our own forces in greater risk of being tortured themselves when captured. We lose our standing on the moral high ground of international law and public outrage.

Third, our acquiescence in torture has already shredded our reputation throughout the world. We used to be seen as a beacon of decency and human rights. As the president travels around the globe making high-sounding speeches about democracy, freedom and human dignity, fewer and fewer are listening.

Finally, torture is utterly contrary to what we stand for as a nation. Sen. John McCain, sponsor of the anti-torture legislation approved by the Senate on a 90-9 vote, said of his imprisonment and torture in North Vietnam: "Every one of us — every single one of us — knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies."

Are we now to become like them?

If we begin to justify torture, the terrorists will have won by changing the very definition of who we are as a people.

Richard G. Watts

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