Senators will have a lot of questions for Gen. Michael Hayden before they decide how to vote on his nomination. But they should not confirm him or anyone else as CIA director unless, at minimum, he is willing to utter two simple words: No waterboarding.

Waterboarding is an interrogation method that involves immersing a prisoner’s head in water, or pouring water over his face, to create a terrifying sensation of drowning. It’s about as cruel a technique as you can devise without leaving scars. Experts say it can cause lasting mental trauma. It’s condemned by the U.S. State Department as a form of torture when it’s employed by foreign governments, such as Tunisia and Kenya.

It has also been used by the CIA on suspected Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Numerous present and former officers have admitted as much in confidential interviews with the news media. In 2004, a CIA inspector general concluded that waterboarding and other methods approved by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks probably violated the international Convention Against Torture. ~Steve Chapman

This is pretty basic. Torture is morally repugnant. It cannot be allowed. Methods such as these are torture. People who have doubts on this need to turn off the latest episode of 24 and start thinking seriously about whether they want to be the sort of people who shrug at the thought of “their” government embracing barbarous tactics.

Here’s the key quote from the torture convention signed by President Reagan:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

But, as Chapman goes on to relate, there have been numerous abuses, and the unaccountable and secret nature of these activities preclude the possibility of upholding the very standards to which we are legally bound by this very convention (dare I be so quaint as to say we are morally bound as well?). It is because of practices like this, I suspect, that the existence of a string of secret prisons in Europe probably struck Mary McCarthy as morally questionable at best. Certainly given the administration’s penchant for illegality and secrecy, it would be wiser to assume that the government is either winking at abuses or seeking flimsy rationales for them when they occur. That is the sort of thing governments always try to do, which is why our government is supposed to be subordinate and accountable to the law. That more than a few Red Republicans do not seem to understand that any longer, invoking “the present danger” and other canards, is one more reason why their party should not be responsible for congressional oversight.