Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On torture

Digby reports on torture used by the CIA, linking to Jane Mayer's story in the New Yorker, The Black Sites as well as Marty Lederman's commentary. These are not isolated incidents; torture is a matter of policy:
The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. 'It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,' an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. 'At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.'
No one should be the least bit surprised by this disclosure.

I predict that the president elected in 2008, a Democrat, will not take the steps necessary to reasonably ensure that such torture no longer takes place. Rather, he or she will take only token measures, without teeth, without criminal accountability, and without protection for those who witness or expose torture, ensuring that torture again becomes hidden.

I make this prediction because the two leading Democratic contenders are sitting Senators—in the majority party—and they have done nothing whatsoever to expose the torture that has been known for years to exist, done nothing whatsoever to identify those responsible and hold them criminally or even politically accountable, and, by not opposing the Military Commissions Act with sufficient vigor (when they were at the time in the minority party), and not attempting to repeal the MCA in the majority, colluded in the legalization of torture.


  1. scott gray8/8/07, 7:10 AM

    what's torture for? isn't it to share important information, in a timely fashion, thru coercion (as opposed to seduction or reason), especially the threat of the use of physical discomfort? then the us census department, once every 10 years, tortures the entire u.s. population...

    how are they different?

  2. It's disgustingly immoral to compare the census to the sort of reprehensible physical abuse officially conducted by the CIA.

  3. actually, i think i've outlined conditions under which torture is ethical: to share (or gain) important information, in a timely fashion, thru coercion. the intent would be gaining information that would result in the greatest pleasure (or the least pain) for the greatest number of people.

    are these the conditions under which the u.s. policy condones torture?

    if not, under what conditions does the u.s. policy condone torture?

    and when people torture for unethical reasons, in situations sanctioned by u.s. policy, what should we do about it?

    if you don't feel my conditions for torture are ethical, what conditions would you feel were ethical?

    i'm sorry you find my hyperbole disgustingly immoral. always a risk when using shocking analogies.


  4. i think i've outlined conditions under which torture is ethical

    I despise and loath anyone who would employ torture under any circumstances. That includes you. I'm not interested in "converting" you. You simply disgust me.

    It causes me no grief whatsoever to ban you from my blog. I don't tolerate monsters here.

  5. The most telling thing about the Mayer article -- and I encourage everyone to take an hour out of their time and read it, free on The New Yorker's site -- is that, with the exception of the military's SERE program, all the techniques used were developed by autocratic regimes not for intelligence gathering but for the elicitation of false confessions. So, not only is our government engaged in morally reprehensible behavior, it has ordered it from the top down, and the methods used have absolutely no utility in intelligence gathering.

    Scott, I think the problem is that your definition of torture, " share important information, in a timely fashion, thru coercion (as opposed to seduction or reason), especially the threat of the use of physical discomfort..." is dangerously reductive and inaccurate, as I point out above. And I'm also not at all aware of penalties for non-compliance with interview requests by Census-takers. Do you have such a broad definition of infringement upon liberty so as to make any form of government illegitimate and torturous?

    Torture is, first and foremost, the world's worst form of gaining actionable intelligence. It frequently elicits false and misleading information (read the Mayer article, and several pieces by Mark Bowden in The Atlantic, who starts from "maybe it's okay" and ends at "there's no utility to torture" a couple of years later). Interrogation experts prefer to apply the lessons of their forebearers from the Pacific Theater in WWII: know the language, know the culture, form rapports. Information gained through physical and psychological duress requires more time to independently verify than pursuing confidence games.

    Take one example: Sleep deprivation. A cumulative deficit of sleep -- for example going 72 hours without it -- is actually grounds for psychiatric treatment. A full week of little to no sleep is grounds for psychiatric hospitalization. Extreme exhaustion creates delusional states whose psychological and physical health costs can persist for months or years after the period of sleep deprivation. That is lasting harm requiring medical intervention. And that's just from sleep deprivation.

    Sleep deprivation was pioneered by the KGB. Waterboarding was a favorite practice of the Viet Cong. Stress positions were perfected by autocratic regimes in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. All of these things were, from WWII until the Bush II era, war crimes punishable by courts martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    From a purely practical, utilitarian standpoint, torture is useless. From an ethical/moral standpoint, it is reprehensible. In torture, you are taking a person within your total power and abusing them, and for little to no appreciable gain.


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