Sell me on why the US should engage in torture.

Bob Herbert’s column reminded me how insane the executive branch’s apparent love of torture is. Herbert quoted an (IMO) apt Washington Post editorial:

Let’s see the downsides:

  • Torture is bad. We’re America. We shouldn’t be committing evil. That’s what the terrorists do, right?
  • If we torture people from their side, they are sure as hell going to torture people from our side. That’s the whole idea behind the Geneva Conventions–we’ll treat your soldiers well, you treat our soldiers well.
  • Most heinous of all–torture doesn’t work. And I’m not even talking about the old saw that torture is a poor way to extract info. from people, they just say whatever you want, blah blah–I mean, we’ve BEEN torturing people since 9/11, and we STILL haven’t gotten anything. No Osama. No WMDs. No letup in the attacks in Iraq. Nothing.

Upsides? I’m listening. I’m eager to know why Bush is so determined to hang on to his torture option that he would scrap funding to continue his pet war in Iraq.

“September 11 changed everything.”

(Not that I buy it, mind you, but there are some folks who will claim that as justification…)

I think the usual argument is that torture is potentially necessary for getting important information out of toughened perpetrators engaged in plotting horrific clandestine crimes that need to be imminently disrupted.

I’ve never seen a shred of hard evidence that torture’s actually effective in achieving this, but I’ve seen the argument itself, unsupported, quite a bit.

Speaking of downsides, there’s also the fact that the public tends to get royally pissed off when evidence of torture incidents seeps out. Especially when some of the people being tortured are innocent, and especially when the public feels close social or ethnic ties to any of them. It’s just so hard to make those overemotional primitives understand that we’re flogging and drowning and anally raping their blindfolded naked cousins and neighbors because we hate evil, not because we hate them, y’know?

The debate often seems to be where the crossover point to torture from ‘rigorous interrogation’ lies, ie that different levels of interrogation are warranted in some situations but its not ‘torture’ really. This particularly comes up with the more psychologically oriented interventions and ‘torture lite’ being used as a euphemism.

I view it as rationalisation myself (I could be even worse so what im doing is no big deal really, an argument you can use for almost anything because you can almost always be worse) but thats the debate I see used most often.


Well the terrorists kill civilians, and cut their heads off. We are fighting a nasty war, and war is a nasty business, we got to do what we need to do to win.

Well a bit backwards IMHO, the GC is a courtesy given to your POW’s becasue of the way you treat their POW’s. If one side does not uphold the GC, I see no reason to uphold the other end, actually I see a reason to intentionaly disregard it if your enemy does.

If it didn’t work, I mean really didn’t work, it would not be used. I must conclude that it does work, and perhaps the gov’t does not want to advertize that fact.

9/11/01 changed NOTHING

Just what was the Geneva Convention supposed to address, wars that weren’t nasty? Could you not make that same excuse for ANY war?

Torture is a crime against humanity and those that engage in it or authorize it are war criminals. It’s as simple as that.

I’m afraid I can’t help you. It’s just as you say: Torture doesn’t work, because it produces bad intelligence. If you can get an innocent man to confess to a capital crime under duress, what possible good is such a method?

“Tough battles need measures” my ass. I tend to think some folks in Washington simply get off on brutalizing suspects. There’s little other conceivable cause for their persistent hard-on over torture. S&M freaks in the CIA? May as well be, for all the good torture has done us. If somebody can point to one really important bit of information gleaned from torture in this War On Terror, I’m all ears. Of course, no such confirmation is ever forthcoming, nor ever will be. It’s all “classified”. Right.

Torture has other uses besides extracting information. Engaging in systemic torture and abuse demoralizes your opponents, and possibly serves as a deterrent - and recruitment - mechanism.

Why do you think all the photos were taken? They wanted people to know what they were doing.

Wouldn’t you think twice about supporting the insurgency (or whatever) if there was a good chance that not only you would be tortured, but also your innocent family (including young children)? Wouldn’t you do anything to aid the torturers in order to avoid that fate for yourself or your family?

They use it for the same reasons all brutal regimes use it - to terrorize and induce obedience and loyalty in the general population. Systemic torture is a form of terrorism.

And how’s that working for us, again? Are you implying that the insurgency in Iraq would be ten times the size it is now if we hadn’t done what we did at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons?

I believe the administration’s argument is as follows: It isn’t that we ought to torture prisoners, but that the legitimate techniques we *do *use might be considered torture by some and consequently stopped if an anti-torture amendment passes. When most people think of torture, they think of pain, fear of death, etc. The type of “torture” we’re talking about is humiliation and mild discomfort.

The fact is that the Geneva convention *is *“quaint.” Just read it; it talks of allowing the use of tobacco, etc. It doesn’t require an extreme interpretation in order to see how it isn’t intended to apply to the sort of people we’re taking in as prisoners.

Interrogation practices such as waking inmates up at odd hours are reasonable and necessary to get any information at all. Should we ban Abu Ghraib style humiliation tactics? Sure. But that doesn’t mean we should treat all prisoners with kid gloves [/their argument]

I think this argument is disingenuous, partly because I imagine that the Army Field Manual allows a fair degree of discomfort to be applied.

And I also disagree because I see no reason to believe that the majority of our prisoners are terrorists or resistance fighters. Furthermore, any potential advantage of even mildly mistreating prisoners is far outwayed by the PR disadvantages.

But I don’t think the argument against the torture amendment is totally nutjob. Or at least, it’s less nutjob that a lot of the other stuff coming out of this administration.

I’m afraid this is going to require folks to define what torture is. Is it:

-Threatening to hurt a prisoner?

  • Putting them in contact with distasteful things, such as pork?
  • Depriving them of sleep?
  • Restricting food (bread and water)?
  • Flashing lights, loud noises?
  • “Gently” applied physical pain (light beatings, brusies but no broken bones, nothign permanent)?
  • Threatend serious torture, without the actual intent (I’m gonna zap you with this cattle prod if you don’t talk)?
  • Being left nude in a cell, hosed with water?

Without a clear definition of what torture is, this discussion is pointless.

You can’t really be so naive as to believe that.

"The methods of ill-treatment most frequently alleged during interrogation included

* Hooding, used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely. One or sometimes two bags, sometimes with an elastic blindfold over the eyes which, when slipped down, further impeded proper breathing. Hooding was sometimes used in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would came. The practice of hooding also allowed the interrogators to remain anonymous and thus to act with impunity. Hooding could last for periods from a few hours to up to 2 to 4 consecutive days, during which hoods were lifted only far drinking, eating or going to the toilets;
* Handcuffing with flexi-cuffs, which were sometimes made so tight and used for extended periods that they caused skin lesions and long term after effects on the hands (nerve damage), as observed by the ICRC;
* Beatings with hard objects (including pistols and rifles), slapping, punching, kicking with knees or feet on various parts of the body (legs, sides, lower back, groin);
* Pressing the face into the ground with boots;
* Threats (of ill-treatment, reprisals against family members, imminent execution or transfer to Guantanamo);
* Being stripped naked for several days while held in solitary confinement in an empty and completely dark cell that included a latrine.
* Being held in solitary confinement combined with threats (to intern the individual indefinitely, to arrest other family members, to transfer the individual to Guantanamo), insufficient sleep, food or water deprivation, minimal access to showers (twice a week), denial of access to open air and prohibition of contacts with other persons deprived of their liberty;
* Being paraded naked outside cells in front of other persons deprived of their liberty, and guards, sometimes hooded or with women's underwear over the head;
* Acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the head for prolonged periods while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position;
* Being attached repeatedly aver several days, for several hours each time, with handcuffs to the bars of their cell door in humiliating (i.e. naked or in underwear) and/or uncomfortable position causing physical pain;
* Exposure while hooded to loud noise or music, prolonged exposure while hooded to the sun over several hours, including during the hottest time of the day when temperatures could reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher;
* Being forced to remain for prolonged periods in stress positions such as squatting or standing with or without the arms lifted."

Well, the lack of a clear definition is the whole problem, not just an annoying facet of our discussion.

FWIW, the Army Field Manual (the proposed new guideline), states: “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to **unpleasant **or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.” [Bolding mine]

So, if these prisoners count as POWs, then this eliminates everything in your list.

(Whether or not they are POWs is, of course, the real debate).

I’m not implying anything specific about the size of the insurgency in Iraq. I’m also not advocating torture - I abhor it - so please adjust your tone.

What I am saying is that torture is most effective as a tool for social intimidation. There are many historical examples, and more recent accounts in many countries besides Iraq. I believe that this is the rationale behind the US administration’s use and support of it.

How effective is it specifically in Iraq? That is a complex question. I think it is certainly a deterrent for much of the population. At the same time, it probably encourages and inflames a certain segment - even outside of Iraq. Some of them have and will travel there to fight. But isn’t that also one of the stated goals of the US? (i.e., contain and fight them there so we don’t have to fight them here) So whether or not it reduces the net size of the insurgency - or if size is the only consideration - is debatable.

My point is, you cannot argue against torture because “it doesn’t work”. I am against it - however effective - because it is wrong.

Torture must be used because it is an eloquent expression of who the US is.

It’s not the nation of reasoned discourse, restraint of law or the fight against ignorance. These are marginal positions and increasingly so. We have seen the USA and it is kanicbird.

In short, President Bush must satisfy his constituency.

A CIA torturer says torture generally doesn’t work, while many former torturers say it does. I think the general idea is the everybody spills everything within the first week or two, even if they are lies to make it stop (yes, my mother is the ringleader!). So I can’t understand why the US needs to torture people for years at a time, unless their sick logic is that by doing so you instantly make them too dangerous ever to release.

Torture satisfies certain psychological needs in those who authorize and support it. It’s as simple as that.

Torture actually does work. Heavy torture may not work but torture light where you just make someone very uncomfortable for indefinite periods of time and cut them off from all outside stimuli can weaken a person’s resistance to interrogation.

Another argument is that the Geneva convention is based on the idea of nations warring against nations where troops were just minor pawns being told what to do by generals who were themselves being told what to do by politicians. The war on terror is different in the sense that there is no central organization and a war where 90% of the people would rather not be fighting, it is a collection of voluntarily fighting individuals who all have sensitive information. So the Geneva protections were designed to protect soldiers who were largely ignorant and would rather be at home than fighting a war while terrorism suspects are neither.

I don’t think I support torture light but it is not something unnatural per se. Many countries all over the planet practice it and it was common in the US up until 40-50 years ago to practice torture light on criminal suspects. We even still practice ‘light’ torture light on criminal suspects, the police try to dissocate the suspect from all contact with the outside world and try to create a state of massive discomfort while implying that cooperation will end the discomfort.

The fact that mental pain isn’t considered as valid as physical pain is probably why torture light is still acceptable. Physical scars from having your legs broken are obvious but the mental scars of torture light are harder to see, so it doesn’t invoke the same level of outrage.