Thursday, May 26, 2005

Torture: An Introduction

Slate has an excellent interactive and quite comprehensive piece on torture today. The abuse and torture of prisoners is a subject that both Frank and I have been discussing informally and would like to address on Exit145. The topic, however, is so complex, and requires such a finely-tuned understanding of legalese that I have been reluctant to engage it.

I will say, for now, that while I am opposed to torture on human rights grounds, I am surprised by the lack of a widespread argument against torture on realist terms.

As usual, Andrew Sullivan has made the most sense on this issue:
My careful, fully documented criticisms of the U.S. treatment of detainees have been made not because I am anti-war or anti-military. They are because I am pro-war and pro-military. Does Glenn really believe for a second that idiotic tactics like brandishing fake menstrual blood or Stars of David at Muslim inmates are good interrogation practices? Does he think these excrescences have helped gain any useful intelligence in any way? The problem with these abuses is that they are evil and stupid; immoral and counter-productive, as so many experts in interrogation will testify. All of this is the gift to bin Laden that keeps on giving. But it wasn't Newsweek who gave him the gift. It was this administration. And, indirectly, those who shill for it.

Those on the right who argue for zero restraint on the treatment of prisoners and for journalists to exercise discretion by not reporting allegations of torture against U.S. troops have no concept of the ideological war we are fighting with fundamentalist Islam.

To quote John Cole:
In the weird world-view of the post-modernist right-wing apologista that Hugh represents, if a story is unreported, it didn't happen....Except it did, and the communities we are ostensibly trying to help know it did, and it breeds legitimate resentment, contempt, and hatred for the United States to bolster the already existing irrational hatred of the US. If Hugh gets his way, the 'Newsweek riots,' as he pithily labels them, will give way to a much deadlier and much more wide-spread and, I might point out, LEGITIMATE groundswell of violence that will have long term implications in the region and on American military and diplomatic power for years to come.
Amen. Check out the Slate interactive piece and look for more on torture soon.
-- Eric


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that if you want to address torture and its effects, you should examine the French military's records of its time during the Algerian wars. The French, however, used torture ruthlessly and systematically to a specific end.

The problem with the current form of U.S. torture is simply that it is done by people who probably believe it is morally wrong, perhaps even abhor it on some level. Therefore, they do not go fully into the torture to exact their gains. Sullivan is right, when he says "[t]he problem with these abuses is that they are evil and stupid; immoral and counter-productive." These tortures are childish and given no more thought and planning than a childhood taunt.

Alan Dershowitz, a respected lawyer, student of law, and no friend to conservatives has argued that torture does have it place in certain situations and should be dealt with carefully. Judges should order "torture warrants" allowing senior interrogators to use any means necessary to exact important information. Obviously, this is a difficult argument, but one to which many people can relate. He uses the "ticking-bomb" argument: If you had a person in custody who knew that there was a bomb that could kill hundreds, wouldn't it be your responsibility to do all you could to get that information? Civil and human rights idealists would probably argue that it is not worth the violation of even on person's civil or human rights to exact that information. Realists, however, as the blog intimates might take a different approach. Heck even a few Wilsonian idealists might jump on that bandwagon.

Torture is abhorrent, but I find it difficult to say that it is a universal evil. The problem is that too often it is used arbitrarily like children use taunts. Or it is used a grand scale to control a population.

Is Dershowitz on to something?

4:39 PM  

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