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.
The prospect of torturing anybody–even Osama–never, but never, gives me a dreamy look in my eyes. I’d rather give him to Patrick Fitzgerald to have his way with him. Still, I confess I get a slightly faraway look when I listen to John Yoo on some TV program, still trying to justify torture. What could he be induced to say under duress–for our amusement and for his edification on the usefulness of information derived that way? Hmmm.
But I think McCain adds a self-interest argument that should be compelling even for those who have fantasies about garden shears. That is, that what one side may use, another may use. If we don’t want American soldiers being tortured by their captors, then we should not allow torture in our ranks.
last February, I wrote “Daily Kos: Outsourcing Torture: Secret History (FBI v. CIA).” it’s linked by clicking on my name.
It draws heavily on the reporting of Richard Sale — a terrific intelligence reporter — and of Jane Maher’s key piece in The New Yorker. There is a way to get information without torture, and it’s been perfected — as Pat says — by “intelligence interrogators [who] are supposed to be skilled at their trade. Their trade is about applied psychology, not about beating confessions out of people.”
Sad that the Chickenhawks in the administration don’t know that, or — worse — care.
My view on this is that torture is a matter of individual self-sacrifice.
It should be illegal with horrendous consequences.
And if you personally — in your capacity as a soldier or government employee, or even as a private citizen — find yourself in the ticking-bomb situation where you firmly believe it’s necessary, you should go ahead and be the one to do it.
And you should turn yourself in afterward and suffer whatever consequences come. Ideally if you have the resources you should run a camcorder while you do it, or at least dial your cellphone to the people who need the information and let them listen to the whole thing. Make sure there’s no doubt about just what you’re doing.
If the nation later believes you did what was absolutely necessary, you’ll be a national hero like Nathan Hale or Paul Revere. The President might pardon you. Even if you’re convicted the guards are likely to go easy on you during your 20 years hard labor, and they’re likely to try to keep the worst prison rapists away from you.
On the other hand, if you made a mistake … then just say “No excuse, sir” and accept the awful consequences.
If you personally are certain that the danger to the nation is worth sacrificing your honor by torture, then it’s worth sacrificing your own personal freedom and your life. It’s your duty as a citizen to make that sacrifice. It would be wrong fot the government to decide it was legal for you to do it. That cheapens your sacrifice.
I particularly like this view because it keeps all the fantasies intact and adds to them — and yet it keeps the reality in sight too. You can fantasise about it all you want, but if the time comes to actually do it you’d better be *sure* you’re right.
I’m appalled that the subject of torture has even become a matter of public debate. Why would we even consider it? It’s counterproductive and just flat-out wrong.
However, when I discuss with others how brutalizing it is, how they’d never be able to perform such acts themselves but are willing to permit others to do it in their name – that it’s a bloodthirsty fantasy, that they simply don’t know anything about that level of violence – I’m dismissed as idealistic and soft.
Is the fearmongering turning us into a nation of sociopaths? How have we sunk to this level? It’s sad.
Thank you for posting this. I sat through a symposium at my school , last year on this topic. The disturbing part was the glibness with which the pro-torture presenter rattled of a list of torture methods. They were all (comparatively) pretty tame, but he seemed to take a certain glee in shocking the audience.
I actually got him to say that yes, he supported torturing the innocent children of terrorists if it would cause said terrorists to disclose a ticking time bomb.
Your comment about asking the fantasizers if they would like to be the ones with the garden shears rang particularly true. None of the people that agreed with the presenter wanted to be the torturers. Yet they were happy to have someone live out there fantasy for them. These people are future members of the bar, and by extension the political elite.
What can we do to get through to them?
Exactly. Most people who are torture advocates have never got near any dangerous situation. They are scared. Or, they have this mean sadist fantasy, as you say. They’d torture shoplifters if they could, just to alleviate the inchoate anger they have.
Story: When Abu Ghraib came out last year, I was in Iraq. I was pretty upset, raving in the office. One Iraqi colleague downloaded some videos of Saddam-regime tortures to console me, to say “hey, it’s not that bad.”
it’s horrifying that this is even a topic of national discussion. yesterday, blitzer framed his argument just as you stated — a bomb’s gonna go off in five minutes, how about breaking some bones.
laura rozen at warandpiece.com commented that if the name was ‘milosevic’ and the country was ‘serbia’, cheney’s ass would be sitting in the hague right now. i like to remind people that until recently augusto pinochet had immunity.
So, if torture doesn’t really “work” in the sense of producing “actionable intelligence,” then why is our Dear Leader so enthusiastic about it? Sadism is not enough, there must a rational functionality to it. Intimidate the terrorists, I’d say. But not just the bad guys. To really control a population, on the Nazi, Baathist or Soviet model, you need three elements working in tandem. One is detention without legal recourse (disappear into the camps). Second is widespread police surveillance (as in 30,000 “national security letters” last year). Third is bad things happening in detention. Once the population at large is aware that these three elements are in place — they’re watching you, you can disappear in the night, and grisly things can happen to you in the detention centers — they will become docile and obedient. None of these three elements actually needs to be employed extensively so long as people believe they are in effect. How close are we to this happy state?
Note #1: This is the result torture. We have a leader who can’t hold moral torch with pride in world forum. He now has to parse, wiggle and dodge on fundamental problem of modern state (machination of torture as policy instead of just and humane judicial system.)
We lost that subtle but precious asset. Moral high ground. Never again can we say to the world, let’s move toward better, just and peacefull world when chaos reign without somebody smirking.
Pople would simply says “Hey FU pal. keep your BS to yourself.”
Bush Avoids Questions About CIA Leak and Secret Prisons
President refuses to support torture ban
President Bush took a few questions while speaking today in Panama.
While campaigning in October of 2000, Bush said “We will ask not only what is legal but what is right. Not what the lawyers allow but what the public deserves.” Today Bush was asked if he had upheld this promise to the American people. Instead of offering a straightforward answer, the president stonewalled with the familiar “We are cooperating with the investigation…” deflection.
Bush was also asked if the Red Cross would be allowed to inspect the “secret prisons” which have been recently reported in the Washington Post and other publications. While the president didn’t answer this question directly, he took the opportunity to strongly imply that he supported torture as long as it was conducted via legal methods and loopholes. He seemed to give the impression that torture was necessary tool when used to protect the American people.
I haven’t read her book, but I did hear Karpinski on the Tavis Smiley Show a few moments ago. She said quite clearly that the very first discussion of the necessity of deviating from the Geneva Conventions occurred in the Oval Office. From that first step all the other horrors have followed. In other words, it was probably Bush who mumbled “Sounds good to me” after Alberto Gonzalez (or whomever) walked him through it. If the Senate language holds, it will be a slap in the face to GWB himself, which McCain will relish (remember the 2000 South Carolia primary).
Thank you. This is a very clear and incisive piece on where we stand on Torture. It is also a very clear explanation of how this Administration administers torture and where the American public is coming from. Obviously as long as they don’t have to do it, it is okay.
I will cross post this.
Also, belatedly, as I have been too busy to mention it, I love the new format.