A reader writes:
How is Cheney's torture any more justifiable than Iran's? In each case, the torturer is coercing the confession they want to hear. Is admitting to collaborating with foreign agents to create internal unrest that different than admitting to joining Al-Qaeda and planning attacks against America (whether falsely or truthfully, we can't know)? The main difference I can see is that we can comprehend Cheney's actions as an extremely misguided attempt to protect Americans. That may make his torture more understandable, but it doesn't make it more justifiable.
Sure, "understandable" may be more suitable, but the point remains: Khamenei torture is on a different level than Cheney torture. For the crime of getting caught on camera holding a bloody shirt, Ahmand Batebi was whipped with cables, beat in the genitals, and basically waterboarded in human excrement. But more to the point: he and his fellow students were tortured for their political beliefs, not their perceived ties to terrorism. The regime then, and now, sought names and false confessions to maintain its political power, not to protect its citizens. So yes, "creating internal unrest" is much different than "planning attacks" on civilians, particularly when that unrest is in response to a bogus election.
That still doesn't justify Cheney and Co., of course - for all the reasons that Andrew has exhaustively laid out. Misguided torture is still torture. And in a way, US methods were even more insidious, since they were sanitized enough to court the conservative mainstream and bureaucratized enough to trickle down the chain of command to the likes of Lynndie England. Iran's motive and methods, on the other hand, are so blatant that they would never garner the support of the American center-right. (The far-right, on the other hand, is another question.)