Faith in Torture is Misplaced28 April, 2009
The radical right likes torture. They have a great deal of faith that, despite clear illegality and ineffectiveness, torture works. I find it very difficult to stomach the idea that we, as a nation, are actually debating what torture is and whether it works. I really cannot add a whole lot to the various discussions going on all around the blogosphere, but I can point out a couple of things.
First: officials of the United States of American have committed international crimes by both engaging in and promoting the use of torture. The definition of torture (from the UN Convention on Torture (negotiated and signed by President Ronald Reagan (hat tip to Ed Brayton on the text))):
1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. (Bold Added by me)
Officers of the United States government, acting on orders from both elected and appointed officials, inflicted “pain or suffering” in order to gain information. Note the bolded phrase above. How can there be any doubt that members of the Bush administrationhave committed an international crime?
And the ObamaAdministration is also violating that same international treaty (hat tip (again) to Ed Brayton on the text):
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.
By not prosecuting current and former officials for torture, is the United States, and, by extension, our President, in violation of Article 2, 1?
And yes, the Reagan administration did (even before the signing of the UN treaty) prosecute a Texas Sheriff after he waterboarded a prisoner (from Digby’s Hullabaloo):
George W. Bush’s Justice Department said subjecting a person to the near drowning of waterboarding was not a crime and didn’t even cause pain, but Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department thought otherwise, prosecuting a Texas sheriff and three deputies for using the practice to get confessions.
Federal prosecutors secured a 10-year sentence against the sheriff and four years in prison for the deputies. But that 1983 case – which would seem to be directly on point for a legal analysis on waterboarding two decades later – was never mentioned in the four Bush administration opinions released last week.
Second: the torture committed in my name, in your name (those of you who live in the US), in the name of the United States of America, has not, by any stretch of the imagination, made America safer (from McClatchy News):
WASHINGTON — The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any “specific imminent attacks,” according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.
Not only that, but it now appears that, with at least one high level detainee, he had already divulged actionable information through standard (and internationally acceptable (and legal)) interrogation techniques. He was only tortured (Zubaydah was waterboarded 183 times afterhe had been in custody for months, providing useful information) after the Bush White House got upset that there were no links between al Qaida and Iraq; the torture was supposed to produce the ‘proof’ of a link and justify our invasion of Iraq.
Third: torture does not work. Well, let me rephrase that: torture is not an effective means fo gaining accurate information. If one’s goal is to punish or terrorize, it works. If one’s goal is to force a prisoner to confess to absurdities (see the Spanish Inquisition, the KGB, and Pol Pot’s regime), it works. If one’s goal is to force a suspected witch to confess that she copulated with the devil, rode through the air on a broomstick, caused a cow to drop dead, soured a barrel of beer, and spoiled some butter, it works. If one’s goal is to obtain actionable intelligence, it does not work.
I honestly feel quite queasy, no, sick to my stomach, that we are actuallydebating the effectiveness of torture, the legality of torture, whether water-boarding counts as torture, and whether torture has kept us safe. Torture is illegal. By the definition America agreed to, agents of the United States Government have tortured detainees. Torture has been far less effective at gaining actionable intelligence than other, legal, forms of interrogation. Torture has produced more terrorists and thus, by extension, has caused the death of servicemen and servicewomen.
Last, every time America has adopted the techniques of totalitarian enemies it has, in either the near term or long term, come back to bite us. How will we, as a nation, react if a U.S. soldier is captured and tortured? Will the radial right understand that, when we torture, we invite others to torture us? Or will the radical right engage in a three year hissy-fit?