Obama, "Torture-Lite" and National Security

A reader writes:

I was reading your post about some people pushing for keeping allowances within the CIA for torture under an Obama administration. What these people seem to have forgotten in our years under Bush is that we had a very functional and effective intelligence apparatus for decades without permitting torture.  You'd be naive to think that we hadn't tortured in all those years, but yet it was still illegal.  So why must we change this now?

The reason that it must be illegal is so that it forces those engaging in torture to weigh the value of the information against the personal consequences they may face.

It puts the burden on the interrogator to make these calls and will discourage them from torturing arbitrarily or even casually.  If it's officially permitted, then torture is no longer seen as a last resort for a rare circumstance, but just another tool in the arsenal.  It practically guarantees that innocent people will be tortured.

Furthermore, as a practical matter, if you permit torture officially and more innocents are tortured, it means you actually get more bad information.  Innocent people can't tell you what you need to know.  So you end up having to spend that much more time and resources just trying to weed out the extra bad information from what you really wanted to know.

Our laws about interrogation, torture, evidence, burden of proof, etc, are all there for a good reason.  We tend to think of these issues in terms of civil rights but it is also about the very real practical value of the results.  Those rules force our criminal and intelligence agencies to work harder to get the information the right way, and getting it the right way yields better results.