Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some Thoughts on Torture

Waterboarding, circa 1556

There are some subjects my idealistic self hopes people won't continue to politicize. Abortion is one and torture is most certainly another.

I'm less interested in what one person in any administration has to say about torture than what experts say, who refer to rational, carefully considered evidence. Empirical data.

Let's not fall then for the fallacy of anecdotal evidence. The possibility that torture "worked" on one person (and let's remember that 24 is fiction - and fiction created by a man who was an open fan of the Bush administration) wouldn't justify its use on prisoners willy nilly anyway - especially when those prisoners were often gathered on a so called "field of battle" without any evidence that they were actually participating in acts of terrorism. Sadly, some of the people have even been proven completely innocent later, though they have received permanent physical and psychological damage from their mistreatment.

Conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan has been carefully cataloguing the ethical and efficacy problems with torture for many months now. I recommend searching for "torture" on his blog and delving into the reams of thoughtful evidence he's compiled.

Let's also recognize that the mere fact that something might (upon rare occasions, possibly) prove effective, does not automatically justify its use. The ends does not justify the means. Otherwise, we might quickly return to all manner of barbarism.

It's surprising to be put in the position in the 21st century of arguing against the use of torture. What has 9/11 done to us?

Washington Post - "The Torture Myth"
Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq: Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information."

PBS - "Debating Torture"
Sen. John McCain: "First, subjecting prisoners to abuse leads to bad intelligence because under torture a detainee will tell his interrogator anything to make the pain stop."

"Science and Engineering Ethics," 2004 - Springer
A utilitarian argument against torture interrogation of terrorists

Salon - "Mixed Messages on Torture"
The U.S. Army declares torture useless
Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff on "tough" interrogation techniques: "No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices," Kimmons said. "I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the past five years, hard years, tells us that. ... Any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility." Kimmons conceded that bad P.R. about abuse could work against the United States in the war on terror. "It would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. We can't afford to go there."

MSNBC - "Military agency warned against 'torture'"

Red Cross Report - "ICRC Report on the Treatment of 14 'High Value Detainees' in CIA Custody" [PDF]

U.S. Department of Justice - "Torture Memos" [PDF]

Finally, Amnesty International enables you to write your senators and state representatives asking them to investigate and prosecute those who responsible for encouraging a climate of torture on behalf of the United States.

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