Why the big deal over torture?

So, I have no idea if this is the right forum to post it, and a quick search didn’t find me a topic on this.

But why does America make such a big deal over torturing enemy combatants? And especially considering most of the stuff we do is a lot of psychological stuff rather than physical stuff. We are engaged in combat with another party, and if we capture enemy combatants who may know something, should we not be actively pursuing possible information? I don’t suppose its sufficient to just ask please.

Torture probably has been used in every major conflict by every major party in human history. Why can’t we just accept that war is a dirty affair and that things like this come out of it? It seems like we’re almost ashamed about it.

I just don’t see the big deal about it. War is hell, does protesting about torture change that fact?

Because if we torture them, then they might torture us. Considering how often American troops are deployed overseas, it makes a great deal of sense to make sure everyone plays by the rules.

That, of course, totally leaves aside the moral dimension.

Yea, what the hell. Let’s just raze, rape and pillage like the good old days. Bring on the carpet bombing! Why endeavor to step forward?

It’s because this kind of war isn’t about battering the other side into submission: it’s about winning hearts and minds. War crimes, such as torture of prisoners and indiscriminate killing of civilians, do not turn hearts and minds into supporting your side.

The Dems have done a good job of defining down torture. I don’t believe anything that was done constitutes torture. But it sure made the captives think we were capable of getting a lot worse. Thanks to the uproar, interrogators cannot even insult their captors.

We made a promise, embodied in a treaty called the Convention Against Torture which was made law through ratification by the Senate and is therefor supreme over every law of the United States, that we would not do it.

By doing it, we are breaking our own laws, as well as international law, and the people who engage in it, and those who approve it as a matter of policy, it are criminals.

In relevant party, the treaty states,
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

In case that pesky treaty seems out of date to you, in 2005 the Detainee Treatment Act was signed into law as well, which renews the committment by stating;
No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

There’s a difference between acknowledging that awful things sometime happen in war and adopting an official policy to insure they do.

For example, sometimes in war soldiers will rape female civilians. Should our attitude be “Oh, well, it’s war. Shit happens. Rape away boys!”? Or should we put rules and penalties in place to discourage soldiers from committing rape?

Hasn’t this what we have been doing? The first battle of fallujah was what seemed to me retribution over the death of a few contractors. So we go in and bomb the hell out of everything.

If we really wanted to win hearts and minds this probably wouldn’t have worked from the start. Why don’t we take a note from Vietnam (and one of the Straight Dope colums)… bribe all of the enemy combatants, and we’d still come out ahead.

I can understand playing by the rules. But sure enough, the enemy is not going to play by the rules. They’re not afraid of ambushing, torturing, and killing our soldiers. On the flipside, we’re even afraid to keep soldiers there any more.

At the same time, it seems like what we’re doing is almost analogous to good ol’ imperalism: go in, invade, set up puppet government. Have what we been doing really much different? It could be we’re not, but at least from a first look its what I see.

Several reasons. First off it’s distasteful to a large percentage of our citizens. Secondly, depending on how you are using the word ‘torture’ it’s unreliable as a means of extracting information for a variety of reasons. The biggest thing though is that there is a lot of room for abuse…and that this abuse has pretty obviously happened and been done in our names tends to piss people off.

That’s true…and in many cases psychological techniques are more effective than direct physical one’s. Again though the problem has been how this has been handled…the way it was handled and set up gave enough room for abuse to drive a tanker into. There was little or no real oversight or checks put on the people doing this stuff, no formal guidelines that would prevent or at least minimize abuse, etc etc…and when the reports on what was being done in our names started coming out then it pissed off the citizens who are paying for all this shit.

We should certainly act to interrogate them. I don’t think anyone is saying that we shouldn’t do so…what they are saying is that the methods used in the past were both distasteful to the country and also were not as effective as they could have been. In addition there is that oversight thing I mentioned. I think what people want is for more formalized procedures that are effective AND humane and the knowledge that there is proper oversight on those doing these kinds of things in our name.

So was the sacking of cities and rape. Slavery has also been with us for quite some time in our history. That doesn’t mean that we have to continue those practices.

Why can’t we strive to be better, to have a better, more effective AND more humane system? Why do we have to be shackled to the past if there are better, less distasteful yet more effective means to the ends we are trying to achieve?

Protesting about torture being done in OUR names will, perhaps, force changes to our system. That’s why we protest, no?


Yeah, like that bleeding-heart liberal Ronald Reagan.

Here’s the definition of torture that Reagan signed and championed in 1988:

“Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

Even if you don’t find torture to be morally abhorrent, how about respect for the rule of law? As Hello Again said, it’s against a multitude of laws.

Take a look at it from a pure warfighting POV.

What’s the purpose of the war? To get the other side to surrender. If the enemy soldiers believe they will be tortured and killed if they surrender, they will never surrender. If they think they will get decent treatment at a POW camp, they just might surrender.

Think back to the first Gulf War, and the invasion phase of the Iraq War. Iraqi soldiers surrendered to our soldiers in droves. And why? Because they didn’t expect to be tortured, or humiliated, or treated like animals, or summarily executed. The reputation of the American Military, at that time, was that prisoners would be treated decently.

And so thousands and thousands of Iraqi soldiers figured that all they had to do was drop their rifles and put their hands up at the first sight of American soldiers, and they’d have an excellent chance of being able to go home safe and sound. And so lots of our soldiers are alive today because rather than fighting back, the Iraqis surrendered.

Now imagine what would have happened if those Iraqi soldiers figured they’d be tortured and executed by our troops. They’d have fought like hell, not because they gave two shits about Saddam Hussein, but because they wanted to live, and fighting back was their only chance. Sure, most of them would have been slaughtered.

But the big reason why there were almost no casualties during the liberation of Kuwait or the invasion of Iraq is because the Iraqi army mostly didn’t fight. An enemy soldier who surrenders without a fight is preferable to an enemy soldier who fights to the death, even if you kill him before he has a chance to kill you.

And an enemy soldier who surrenders and is treated decently and then returns home tells his friends and family how he was treated. He might not be a supporter of the guys who captured him, but he doesn’t hate them either. He is a living argument that the invaders aren’t that bad, just cooperate with them and everything will be OK. And this makes peace possible after the war is over.

Ok, I understand that we have made laws about it.

However, it seems to me that these laws are just for public show. We want to be better than that. But in reality, nothing’s really being done to enforce it. The related agencies will still do it even because they know that they are doing something in the interest of the government, and will not be prosecuted. The authorities will not enforce it because they are, at least in part, benefiting from the information gained, and they also don’t want to create breaks in our intelligence agencies.

Are we ashamed of coming clean with what we do?

Its one thing if we’re pushing for change, but you and I know that the government is not planning to change any of it. Unless we can somehow change the fundamental rules of war, it doesn’t seem like something that is willing to be changed.

EDIT: Lemur866 does give a very good argument. It does work in the cases where people are willing to surrender. But what about the radicals? Those who won’t give up no matter what, and who would not hesitate to do the same to us?

One of these words does not mean what you think it means.

Also, somebody will be over your house shortly to waterboard you. We apologise in advance for the “insult”.

Beautifully put, Lemur866.

The key word there is severe. I’m not pro torture and I can see how people can disagree about certain techniques. But, c’mon, not even an open handed slap?

Whoops…typo. As for the waterboarding I’ll do it for charity.

Would you object to being slapped by a law enforcement officer if you were suspected of committing a crime?

For the record, at least a dozen of the suspects who were tortured (sorry, subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques) have been diagnosed with PTSD or other psychological impairments causally related to their treatment.

ETA: Hannity, is that you? :wink:

The current torture controversy is not over prisoners being slapped. Do you deny that waterboarding and stress positions cause severe pain and suffering?

And if these techniques don’t cause severe pain and suffering, why would they induce a reluctant prisoner to talk? “Oo … oo … I’m a big bad terrorist. I’m not gonna tell you anything. Oh … mild discomfort! Stop, stop, I’ll tell you everything!”

The pro-torture position isn’t even logically consistent. On the one hand we’re told that the techniques aren’t very severe. On the other hand we’re told that they can be used to make even the toughest prisoner talk. Well … which is it?

Even with them, not torturing has some effect; we don’t give them further ammunition to shoot back at us. If we torture, then they can use that fact to inflame potential recruits and turn people further against us. He might still be willing to fight, but at least he doesn’t have 10 friends coming along with him.