Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Torture - The Questions Not Asked

One of the most frustrating aspects of the debate on torture, besides the essential point that the United States of America has been for years now debating the fine points of what constitutes torture and what does not, is the absence of what seems to me to be the most basic and logical questions about the logical consequences of the arguments in favor of torture.

Lindsey Graham believes that torture is defined by
1. it's effectiveness. If it works, it isn't torture.
2. the target. If the target is a terrorist (e.g., a bad person), it isn't torture.
3. perceived danger. If Americans are threatened, it isn't torture.

Where do these assumptions leave us?
Under Graham's assumptions, the Spanish and Italian Inquisitors were justified in torturing Jews. They were, after all, heretics and the "killers of Christ". Under his assumptions, Jean D'Arc deserved her treatment. She was a heretic. Under Graham's assumptions, the Germans and Japanese were justified in torturing Allied soldiers and spies who, after all, had important knowledge about allied plans that would directly kill thousands upon thousands of German and Japanese citizens. The Vichy French were justified in torturing French Partisans, for the same reason.

Think about the fire-bombing of Dresden and Tokyo. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Using Graham's definitions, the Germans and the Japanese would have been well within their rights to torture any person, soldier or civilian (e.g., a spy), who might have had knowledge that would help those nations protect their cities and citizens. (For all we know, had the Japanese understood what an atom bomb could do, they might have surrendered. We didn't give them the chance. We didn't even give them time to contemplate the effects of Hiroshima before we dropped another bomb on Nagasaki.)

If a nation's being in danger is the sole justification required, then every nation in every war, whether conventional or guerrilla, is justified in torturing anybody it captures who may, and I emphasize may, have knowledge that could limit or prevent the loss of life on the side of the questioner. Indeed, followed to its logical conclusion, guerrillas and rebels (such as the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese) are justified in using these techniques against the people they capture, for exactly the same reason.

If preventing loss of life is the primary justification, why don't we let police pick up potential criminals and torture them? Or use these "enhanced interrogation techniques" against people who have been arrested? The U.S. had and has a number of very violent people who have committed or who might commit horrendous crimes. Shouldn't our police have been permitted to use these techniques on the unibomber? Or on Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber? What is the difference between these people and Al-Kaeda?

Under Graham's propositions, the Russians were justified in torturing Francis Gary Powers. He was, after all, a spy (not a soldier captured on the battlefield). The North Koreans were justified in torturing the sailors of the USS Pueblo.

Another Grahamism: well, maybe we shouldn't do these things but let's not tell our enemies. Excuse me? Maybe I've watched too many World War II movies, but didn't a number of enemy forces surrender to American troops at least in part because they knew they would be treated well?

If any of these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were applied against American soldiers or citizens by a foreign government would we consider them to be torture? Of course. Unless memory fails me, we have routinely objected to even such "mild" techniques as solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, noise, etc. when used against Americans. A definition of torture that is dependent on the target rather than the action is meaningless.

Torture Works?
If torture works, then the confessions of Americans captured by the North Koreans and the Vietnamese were not false, not coerced. They were true. After all, torture works.

Women in Salem, submitted as I recall to "mild" techniques such as multiple pin pricks, confessed to consorting with the devil. I suppose there may be some Christians believe this to be possible, but I suspect that most of us would conclude that these women were not telling the truth.

Legal Opinions
If all it takes is a legal opinion to sanction torture, then perhaps the Allied Forces owe the lawyers and judges convicted at Nüremberg pardons. After all, they were not relying on legal "opinions". They were enforcing the laws, the laws mind you, of a legally elected government.

Enemy Combatants
I loathe this term. Like the redefinition of what constitutes torture, it's only purpose is to remove those captured from the protections they would have as prisoners of war.

It is my understanding that most of the people at Guantanamo were captured on battlefields. We invaded Afghanistan. It doesn't matter whether that invasion was justified or not. Don't the residents of Afghanistan have a right to defend their country? Does that right disappear because they don't wear military uniforms? If that's the case, the British were justified in torturing the American rabble who had the nerve to rebel against the King.

The Definition of Torture

Under the Bush definition that anything short of organ failure isn't torture, where does that leave us?

It means it is legal to batter, break bones, use electric shocks against genitals, rape with or without physical instruments, pull out fingernails and toenails, burn the skin with cigarettes, etc. What would the U.S. government do if a foreign country used any of these techniques against an American found illegally in that country and believed to be engaged in activities which would result in the loss of life? Would we say "fine, as long as there is no organ failure or death"?

The Innocent
Hundreds of Guantanamo detainees were released by the Bush Administration because they were innocent. Think about that. They were imprisoned and subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" for years - and they were innocent.

Under torture, the guilty have choices. They can hold out until that mythical "ticking time bomb" goes off. They can issue repeated lies until that mythical "ticking time bomb" goes off. They can dribble out half-truths. They can tell the truth.

But the innocent have no choice but to lie, to create fantastical stories that will stop the pain because they have nothing to confess.

Given the numbers of prisoners released from Guantanamo, it would appear that our ability to accurately identify truly dangerous people is rather low.

I realize this doesn't matter to the supporters of torture. They operate under the 1% criterion. It's OK to torture 99 innocent people in order to get possibly useful information from one guilty person.

The torturers
Tell me, would you like to live next door to a person who spent his or her days torturing? Would you like your son or daughter to marry a person whose job is to torture? Would you feel comfortable having a torturer babysit your children? And, finally, what kind of people are capable of inflicting pain on another human being (OK, dentists and cancer specialists excepted) day in and day out? Would you want to be friends with them?

Am I nuts or shouldn't at least some of these questions be asked by the people who oppose torture?

American "Exceptionalism"

What is all comes down to, of course, on the part of those who approve of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (Newspeak of the highest order), is that Americans are different. Because we are "good", we can torture. Because our enemies are bad, they deserve to be tortured. Unfortunately, I don't know of any nation or group of people who can't defend torture on these very grounds.

p.s. Would somebody please send Lindsey Graham a copy of 1984?

p.p.s. If we put every American male over the age of 10 in jail we would probably reduce crime by what? 95%? Women and children could walk the streets in safety. Almost all physical abuse would end. So would most drug trade (yes women are users but most organized crime members are men). We wouldn't even have to torture them. Just hold them until they are too old to do any harm.

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