"... The Guardian newspaper unveiled the results of a year-long investigation purporting to show that U.S. military advisers, with the knowledge and support of many senior officials, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and disgraced Gen. David Petraeus, oversaw a vast program of torture inside Iraqi prisons..
..Col. James Steele and Col. James H Coffman, ran a high-level secret program inside Iraqi prisons to extract information from alleged insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists...." (10 Years After the Invasion of Iraq, a World of Hurt )
I run into Republicans on occasion. There's my beloved Uncle D for one, and there are some at work and in my Facebook feed.
I run into them, but we don't discuss politics. Similarly I don't consume any GOP media; neither Murdoch's nor talk radio nor right wing blogs. So what I know of Republican thinking is filtered by the NYT, NPR, Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman and the rest of my 400 feeds.
Except for app.net. That's the one place where I get to correspond with intellectual Republicans. It was there that some of us worked through a discussion on the role of torture in modern warfare. During our conversation, I was challenged to defend my scorn for the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld (BCR) torture program. I was surprised -- it's been a long time since I've had to think about why the BCR program was a terrible idea.
It's good to have surprises like that, and good to use this blog to think through my position, starting with a contrary "pro-torture" perspective of my own. (I'm not trying to represent my correspondent's position, I'd likely distort it unfairly.)
My pro-torture argument has nothing to do with whether torture is effective or not. That's a red herring; for the sake of argument let us assume that a skilled torturer always breaks any resistance and hears whatever the victim believes to be true.
Instead I, playing the role of Dick Cheney, will argue that torture isn't so bad. After all, we Americans routinely kill combatants and civilians in our many wars, not to mention our domestic execution chambers. We, more than most nations, sentence vast numbers of citizens to particularly nasty prisons.
Those are nasty fates. Given the choice, many of us might opt instead for a bit of sensory deprivation, flogging, waterboarding, electric shocks, and thumbscrews.
So then why should we be particularly averse to torture? If torture is no worse than routine warfare, shouldn't we retroactively pardon the torturers we imprisoned after World War II? Should we apologize to North Korea and North Vietnam for the mean names we called them; and discard our meager loyalty to the Geneva Conventions once and for all?
These are strong arguments, but history tells me they are misguided. There's a reason that torture was slowly removed from the legal code, and that 'cruel and unusual punishment' was a part of the English Bill of Rights in 1689.
One reason is that people who inflict torment on prisoners, who are by definition helpless, are changed by their experience. Some are repelled by the work, but some are attracted to it. The historical record tells us the practice spreads quickly, from special circumstances to general circumstances. From a few isolated rooms to a vast network of American supported Iraqi torture chambers. From the battlefield to Homeland Defense, and from Homeland Defense to the Ultra-security prison, from the Ultra-security prison to the routine prison, from the prison to the streets ...
Torture, history suggests, is habit forming. If humans were machines we might be able to manage torture as readily as we manage prison sentences. We're not though. Our culture fares badly when we make torture acceptable.
We should remember that now.
- Obama – leading us out of the darkness and the torture chamber 1/2009. Obama shut down the detention centers very publicly. The GOP blocked the closure of Guantanamo - with the help of some Dems.
- Inmate Kyle Foggo – Creator of the post-2003 torture facilities 8/2009. His Wikipedia entry is here. Contrary to my thoughts in 2009, Obama turned away from the torture trail.
- America's Inquisition 1/2012. The Inquisition followed the same time honored procedures.
- The Argentinian solution 3/2005. We should ask Argentinians about the impact of their torture program on their society.
- No, religion does not make you a better person 4/2009. Religious Americans tend to approve of torture. This makes a lot of sense given the concept of Hell.
- The right declares in favor of torture - responding to the ticking clock 11/2007. Clive Crook is often an ass, but he wrote very well about this topic.
- That which does not kill me is not torture 6/200. John Fredman - "If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong"
- CIA Torture tapes destroyed 12/2007. Destroying the evidence paid off.
- Bush didn't want to know the location of the CIA's torture facilities 12/2007. Plausible deniability.
- American torture - what's next 1/2009. Obama pledged to follow the Geneva convention. We're still waiting for the Truth Commission.
- The classification and heritage of American torture 3/2009. We're "Anglo-Saxon modern".
- Another Cheney fan rediscovers waterboarding really is torture 5/2009. Radio fruitcake discovers what torture is.
- Restoring American civilization: 12 steps NYT 3/2007. Still waiting.
- American fear and our shredded honor - two ringing voices against torture 5/2007. Retired military leaders "As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb."
- Waterboarding is Torture... Period (Links Updated # 9) | Small Wars Journal 10/2007. A SERE graduate.
- What do the Bushies and the Khmer Rouge share? - Kristof 12/2008. Waterboarding.
- 183 - Krugman 4/2009. KSM was waterboarded 183 times in one month. Some people get to like doing torture. Cheney tortured and tortured until his victims told him Iraq had WMDs.
- Franken’s torture smackdown | MinnPost 7/2012
- U.S. Says Rendition to Continue, but With More Oversight - 8/2009 I'd like the NYT to f/u on what has happened over the past four years.
- Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centres The Guardian 3/2013: Rumsfeld era, but ties torture program to Pentagon and to Petraeus.