The use of “torture”

The definition of torture is a matter for argument. At one extreme some call anything that makes one uncomfortable, or in fear, to be torture. At the other extreme it is defined as the permanent disabling with extreme pain. Let us assume the former, for the sake of discussion. That would make the playing of loud rock music outside Noriega’s compound torture (and I might agree, being a musician). BTW, that is the proper definition of “begging the question”. It means allowing a proposition one may not agree with for the sake of the argument – not ducking the question.

The FBI, and other criminal investigation agencies, have shown studies that indicate that “coerced interrogation” does not get reliable information. The CIA has had success with extreme methods, as shown in the tracking down of UBL.The problem is that we are dealing with apples and oranges. The criminal investigation agency is looking for evidence that can be presented in court. Even if we didn’t have the Constitutional prohibition of self incrimination, and the requirement for due process, there would be the “Inquisition problem”. The subject may say anything to stop the torture, the evidence is faulty.

On the other hand, the CIA, and other agencies involved in the protection of the US from ongoing war, or whatever one wants to call it, don’t have the need for accurate information. They need bits and pieces that they can then verify by other means. They aren’t looking to convict a criminal, they are looking to prevent further attacks. They aren’t going to send in the troops on the “confessions” of one who is interrogated – they are going to spend a lot of time connecting the dots from various sources.

I am in full sympathy with Senator McCain’s view that torture is not effective – he went through it. But he was being tortured for propaganda and political reasons – as a POW military pilot he could have no information that the Vietnamese could use to counter the US prosecution of that war. The torture was a gratuitous attempt to break him and make him an instrument of propaganda. But the same doesn’t apply in an asymmetrical war where the enemy is an amorphous entity, and the captive individual may have bits and pieces of information that can lead to the core of that entity. (Note that I’m careful to use general terms, I’m not waffling – I’m trying to avoid the current situation’s terms on purpose).

There is a moral question involved, and I accept that. “We don’t use torture, it is against our principles”. And Wilson’s Secretary of State said we wouldn’t spy – “gentlemen don’t read other people’s mail”. The valid purpose of saving lives, and particularly the lives of our fellow countrymen, should be a higher morality than the prohibition of torture.

Having said that, I’ll say that I’m against torture for any purpose. I now come back to the original premise as to the definition of torture. The rack, the Iron Maiden, the auto de fe, the pulling of fingernails. Those are torture as they inflict extreme pain as well as permanent damage. But the “enhanced methods” of interrogation – water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other such – are designed to be temporary, and to inflict fear of further methods. The interrogation is normally done later, when the subject has had time to absorb the treatment. It is an effort to weaken resolve, not to get any invented “confession” to stop the pain. The Inquisition was a primary example of the latter, say anything to be allowed to die and stop the torture.

And that is where the apples and oranges lie. One approach is to get good information that may be used as evidence – the other is to get leads that can be checked out and compared with other leads. One is to convict a criminal, or to find his associates in a crime that has already been committed – the other is to gain information that may help in preventing an act of war, or terrorism. The latter should only be used with the authorization of the heirarchy of command, up to the CinC. It should be used carefully, and with review.

Best, Jon

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