Friday, October 05, 2007

One More Chorus of the Torture Blues 

I am always amused by how, without exception, all discussions on GWOT, interrogation and torture devolve into a "this is torture - no, this is torture" schoolyard argument. I am also amused how often that argument is entirely devoid, even on blogs with a legal basis, such as Ann Althouse's, of relevent legal reference. I offer my non-lawlerly reading of 18 USC 2340 once again for consideration in clearly demonstrating that none of the acts authorized could possibly be legally considered "torture."

Ann, however, is not questioning the legality of such acts, but rather the propriety. It seems to me that the question of propriety hinges upon some very clear questions:On the first point, except for simulated drowning (i.e. water-boarding), these techniques have routinely been used in initiations, training and many other fairly common occurances. In other words, I do not generally consider them on the good-bad scale of being inately too far on the "bad" side. I would consider water-boarding a bit further toward the "bad" end, but also recognize that while it is uncomfortable and stressful its effects are also temporary in both.

On the second point, if any of these techniques are used specifically to cause discomfort or pain, then the usage is "bad" and should be subjected to censure. Like any other segment of society, the military does include some sadistic bastards (see "Abu Ghraib" for an example), but I think we generally do a good job of finding and punishing them (again, see "Abu Ghraib" for an example). The fact the a few may misuse these techniques is no more a reason to disallow them than the fact that a few may misuse their weapons is a reason to disarm the soldiery.

Key to the question of intent is utility. While the "torture never works" argument is both succint and sanctimonious, it is also unproven and requires the acceptance of unstated assumptions in order to truly be valid. If one truly believes that "torture never works," then one must also believe that those interrogation professionals throughout the ages, including those who are guiding this policy, are either complete idiots in ignoring the collective experience of their profession or merely sadistic bastards who don't care that it is ineffective. This seems to be quite a stretch to me. Likewise, the commonly offered conjecture that you never know the validity of information obtained under torture implies that the interrogator is using a single source with no follow-on verification. In reality, it is very easy to verify if, for example, the information on where an IED is burried is accurate or not. Simply call EOD and have them investigate. To those questioning the validity of information obtained under durress, please consider the following question. If you were a bad guy and knew where an IED/weapons cache/hostage was and felt compelled under simulated drowning to give up information, wouldn't you expect that giving wrong information would result in more of the same? Wouldn't that, by itself, serve as motivation to tell the truth?

Finally, on the third point I agree that using these techniques as a matter of course on any and all individuals detained would be "bad," but the policies themselves and, as far as I can tell, demonstrated practices show this is not the way they are applied. For example, of the former Gitmo detainees that have been repatriated, how many have subsequently offered testimony of such coersive techniques? In fact, a Google of "guantanamo detainee repatriated torture" actually shows page after page of pleas to not repatriate detainees where real torture is practiced.

In summary, if the question is "is it not abhorrent?" then I'd have to say that yes, it is not abhorrent. Perhaps it is a character flaw, but I simply don't find harsh and sometimes severe treatment against specifically selected enemy combatants to obtain important actionable intelligence abhorrent. It is without question regrettable and, depending upon the specifics, it may be bad, but I like my words to have meaning and to ascribe the label "abhorent" in this case robs that useful word of its bite and strength.

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