An unoccupied communal cellblock at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, March 5, 2013.
Bob Strong / Courtesy Reuters

Lost in the debate over the brutal techniques used to interrogate al Qaeda suspects has been one of the U.S. legal advisers’ key justifications for the program: the “Israeli example," which, they argued, established that torture is permissible as a last resort when "necessary to prevent significant physical harm” to civilians.

On the surface, Israel might seem like a useful precedent for those arguing that so-called enhanced interrogation isn’t beyond the pale. As a democracy facing a huge volume of terrorist attacks—with a legislature and a judiciary that have publicly scrutinized the legality of “moderate physical pressure”—

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