People often ask me at public events if I think it is "all right" to torture prisoners if that is necessary in order to obtain information needed to prosecute the "Global War on Terror." (GWOT)
I routinely tell them that it is NOT "all right" to torture people for any reason. The assembly expects that result from the question and they also expect that I will then give them the standard lecture which holds (correctly) that the tortured will tell you anything that they think you want to hear in order to get you to stop what you are doing. Therefore, information obtained through torture is logically suspect and worthless. Intelligence interrogators are supposed to be skilled at their trade. Their trade is about applied psychology, not about beating confessions out of people.
The audience is usually a little more surprised to have me tell them that "torture" is a dishonorable and immoral thing to do and that a decent person, especially a decent soldier, will have nothing to do with such things and will not allow it to happen around him or her. (At this point I can expect to hear from someone whose PTSD induced fantasy life will have encouraged a great story)
With the conversation having progressed to this point, a look of dramatic, and cynical world-weariness comes over some members of the audience and someone (often a woman) asks me what I would do if the "authorities" had captured "Fulaan Abu Shuismuh" (so and so, the father of what’s his name) and this creep has the secret information needed to prevent a terrorist outrage, and won’t talk. "Isn’t it right to do whatever it takes….." That is the question that is always asked, often with a kind of dreamy, far off look in the eyes. I have gotten tired of this Sado-Masochistic day-dreaming, so, in response I ask them how far they would go in "whatever it takes?"
"All the way," is what these usually liberal, often academic, middle class Americans normally say. "OK," says I. "Let’s say he is really obdurate and the clock is ticking on said ‘terrorist outrage,’ so we bring him in here and you and you will hold him down while I take his fingers and toes off one at a time with garden shears until he talks? Are you "in" for that?" Shocked silence follows. "Ah, I get it," says I. " You mean that it would be ‘all right’ for people like me to do these things." At that point it can be seen from the faces that this is the case.
"Ah," says I as a "follow up," "then how far are you willing to go in ‘immunizing’ the tormentors from prosecution once the GWOT is a memory?" This does not get an answer. So, this is all BS, a fantasy for everyman and everywoman (complete with guilty frisson of titillation).
The danger is that Cheney and all the other political obsessives on this subject in and out of government encourage those among who are quite capable of any bestiality that their furtive imaginations contrive. They hold out to the "dark ones" the possibility of accomplishing their dreams of power and domination. There are such people in any society, among any people, anywhere, and at any time. By creating a climate of permissiveness toward abuse of prisoners "for interrogation" the Cheney/Rumsfeld crowd have enabled a release of the demonic forces that, to some extent, lurk in all of us.
Now the Congress is deliberating a proposal by Senator John McCain of Arizona (who knows something about torture) which would forbid the use of torture in interrogations by intelligence personnel Cheney opposes this.
McCain wants the "limit" in what can be done to prisoners to be the US Army Field Manual on the subject. I think that would be most appropriate.