Completely apropos of my prior ramble on 24 and torture, Steve Walt elucidates far more clearly the realist perspective on waterboarding. For your edification.
[…] I think there is a fairly strong realist case against waterboarding. Realism emphasizes that foreign and defense policy should advance the national interest, and that one way to do that is to minimize the number of enemies one faces and maximize the amount of international support one can expect. Using waterboarding and other forms of torture undermines both goals, especially for a country as strong as the United States.
Other countries naturally worry about the concentration of power in American hands, and they will worry all the more if they think that power might be exercised arbitrarily or cruelly, even against suspected bad guys. Relying on waterboarding and other forms of torture also makes the United States look hypocritical; if we are willing to violate our professed principles in this realm, can others count on anything we say in other areas? Torturing people also gives our enemies a powerful rhetorical argument to use against us and makes us seem more like them, which in turn makes it harder for us to rally others to our side. And the real kicker is the likelihood that the information gained through torture is probably not as reliable as information gleaned through other methods, because someone being tortured is likely to say anything that will get the inquisitors to stop. A realist might accept waterboarding as a regrettable necessity if it provided information that was absolutely essential to protecting the country (which is why those who support the use of torture tend to rely on “ticking bomb” scenarios), but a number of experts on interrogation have cast serious doubts on that view.
The last bit of the quote deals with why I think it’s mostly fine for the sort of sub rosa stuff done in 24, but not the publicly defended stuff done by the Bush Administration.