Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tortured Logic

There's been enough discussion of the Bush administration's attitude and tortured logic on the subject of torture that I feel compelled to comment. It seems pretty well agreed by all those with relelvant experience that torture is ineffective in producing reliable information. Torture subjects will confess to whatever they think the torturer wants to hear to get it to stop. Water boarding and other techniquest that some reports have described as "merely psychological" are completely inhumane. The descriptions make it clear that the subject ends up in complete fear for his life. The distinction between how much pain is produced, and undergoing a genuine feeling of suffocation is pure sophistry and it's despicable. The idea that some kinds of treatment, while forbidden under the "cruel and inhuman" provisions of the constitution, are acceptable in some circumstances is foul and unworthy of any civilized people. It is also counter-productive for two reasons. First, as I mentioned, it's unlikely to procure useful information, and second it gives others an argument to hide behind when they want to torture our friends. Torture does have an effect, and that is to degrade, and to the extent it is publicized, to scare some people away from contact with potential torturers. I don't think anyone is arguing that the US wants to achieve those effects in Iraq or Afganistan. Once you become convinced that torture is not an effective means of interrogation, no justification remains. If we renounce torture because it is inhumane and ineffective, (and it is both) our enemies cannot torture and claim to be civilized. If we (our government) use torture, our opponents can torture in an attempt to convince us and our allies that we don't want any of our soldiers there. As long as we don't fully renounce torture, the arguments about whether we're any better than Saddam or Zarquawi will distract the people of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East from finally making the decision that they want to be in control of their own future enough that they'll actively work to subvert the insurrection. Some of the discussions I've seen on-line have claimed that the last argument remaining to the torture proponents is the "ticking time bomb" argument. But if we don't believe that torture produces informative confessions, then that argument is vacuous. And I don't think anyone has claimed that any of the torture in any of the prisons maintained by the US in Iraq, Afganistan, or Cuba is justified because we need information quickly. If there were any force behind the ticking time bomb argument, it would only apply in the first few hours someone is in custody. After that, it's pure savagery. Torture is wrong. Officials at all levels of our government and our military should be promulgating the message that it's counter to our ethics and counterproductive in both the short and long term. The descriptions I've seen of interrogation techniques that are "cruel and inhuman", but somehow arguably acceptable when applied overseas make it crystal clear that they are torture.

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