Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Torture, a case study and debating the un-debatable…

Let’s jump right on in, shall we?

A bitch read this piece about a new poll that found that just over half of Americans think torture can be justified as a tool to “thwart” a terrorist attack and it made my soul ache.

Actions have consequences and, in this case, the campaign to amplify fear while at the same time twist reality has apparently resulted in more than half of Americans having lost their motherfucking minds.

I don’t give a hot damn if knees jerk at this…trusting the integrity of information gleaned from torture is no different than an employer trusting feedback on a project from an employee she just threatened to fire for not being a team player. Odds are Person B is gonna tell Person A what he thinks she wants to hear because Person B knows his ass is on the line.

When Person B’s ass is literally on the line, the motivation to toss out bullshit that will please Person A increases and the integrity of the words that come out of Person B’s mouth is diminished.

But we know that shit.

Yes, we do…and this bitch is tired as hell of pundits and others acting like we don’t have over 100 years of terror, war and torture to examine and deduce that TORTURE DOES NOT FUCKING WORK…cough…and, therefore, is both a waste of time and a dangerous way to get data. I’m not even going to mention that it’s morally wrong because clearly our moral compass has been shot to hell. So fuck morality – torture is unreliable and, if more than half of Americans want to reliably thwart (Gawd, what a word?!?) another attack then they should turn to their Nation Handbook of Guaranteed Ways to Prevent Future Violence (‘tis a quick read, trust) where they will discover that there is no chapter titled Torture.

Lawd, give me strength.

If we the people were to examine moments when torture, along with general violent oppression, was used as a means to prevent attacks we’d see the error of that thinking. A bitch would like to direct more than half of we the people to the award winning movie The Battle of Algiers. The film is based on events that took place during the eight year Algerian War against French colonial rule in North Africa (1954-1962). They should prevent themselves from falling into the intellectually lazy pattern of thinking French torture was different from American torture and that the French didn’t torture Algerians enough. Trust that the French gave torture a solid multi-year run during the Algerian War…and it was successful - Algerians coughed up all manner of information as a result. Algeria also won the war and independence from France.

The Pentagon screened The Battle of Algiers in 2003 because it provides a lot of insight into insurgent opposition to an occupying power, so this bitch isn’t the only one who thinks the film is a useful learning tool. Unfortunately, the film was not viewed prior to the Bush Administration setting their course and fixing those blinders upon their relatively empty heads.

Anyhoo, the failure of torture and brutal oppression during the Algerian War is but one of many examples of how TORTURE DOES NOT FUCKING WORK.

But this bitch gets that torture is less about using a proven tactic and more about frustration on the part of the torturer over the reality that determining the plans of the torturee is fucking hard to do.

Be that as it may, more than half of Americans need a reality check. Even if a body is able to dismiss the moral complications of torture one cannot argue with the history of that shit failing to thwart.


Well, one could argue with history but then you’d be debating the un-debatable.

Speaking of debating the un-debatable...

During recent Senate hearings…lost in the political storm over what Speaker Pelosi knew about American use of torture and when she knew it…former FBI interrogator, Ali Soufan, and a Bush State Department deputy, Philip Zelikow gave testimony on how fubar our use of torture has been.

Soufan also said that his use of psychological manipulation did result in solid data but torture didn’t.

When Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) argued that“One of the reason these interrogation techniques have survived for 500 years is because they work.”

Soufan replied… “There are a lot of people who find it easier and aren’t smart enough” to interrogate someone without torture.



Sparky said...


We KNOW torture doesn't work. We know this, we've been through it a thousand times and common sense should agree.

But even if it did? It's TORTURE. if you want to maintain any claim, any pretence of the moral high ground there are some lines you MUST. NOT. CROSS. And torture is so definitely one of those lines.

Which is why this whole debate depresses me. We shouldn't be asking whether torture works or not - it's irrelevent, it's torture! We shouldn't be asking whether something's torture or not - if it even kinda, sorta, maybe looks like torture then we SHOULD NOT BE DOING IT.

It's one of those things the debate should definitely go one way - but that the very fact there IS a debate is depressing

Jebuff said...

Right. 100%. No embellishment needed.

IseultTheIdle said...

Shark-fu... may I call you Shark-fu?

You're talking about a population that believes that capital punishment works as a deterrent to crime. You're talking about a population that believes the Earth was created in six days.

You're talking about a population that believes that slavery wasn't all that bad, and even if it was, it was a long time ago and no after effects could possibly remain.

Americans, and probably others but I don't know them and I do know us, love easy answers. We love sound bites and bumper stickers. We line up to buy snake oil from reassuring hucksters. We have some sort of societal ADD that prevents most of us from scratching the surface of any issue to any depth at all.

Of course it doesn't work; of course it's punitive and small and mean. We know that. We know that.

And knowing it just makes us madder.

Good lord, we've become the abusive husband.

Mari said...

I would love to go back to us being the good guys. I think the Geneva Conventions should be strictly adhered to.

Miss Trudy said...

Shows like "24" do a lot to disseminate the view that torture is "necessary" in order to save a nation, and that even if our basic gut instincts are against it--as long as we feel "morally conflicted" about it too--then it is justified.

The extent to which TV shows teach our public what to think came home to me when I attended a conference and all these law professionals were explaining how juries and witnesses at court nowadays, thoroughly "informed" by shows such as CSI and "Law and Order," actually refuse to believe in evidence presented because they watched on CSI how you can tell the exact time a corpse met its end, or else, that if it is not proven by DNA it's not valid, on the other hand, that DNA can actually solve all issues, things like that. Of course this can work either against the plaintiff or the accused, but in any case, it works to thwart the process. I served on jury duty once and it was a nightmare. Not to put a fine point to it, the only thinking beings there were a poor, white woman who deferred to rest because she was used to not being heard or taken into account, and yours truly. The rest were operating on what they've seen on TV or the newspapers: black people are always guilty, poor people are always out to get a free ride.

So, I digress, but not by far. Torture is acceptable because if you stoke the sadistic bone in human beings long enough, you will create a society that grows to find pain in others acceptable and even feel righteous pleasure from it, and because TV has also made it seem imperative and "right" ... and as long as we bother to feel "conflicted" about it, it's okay, because it shows we're "decent people" ...

Rileysdtr said...

Read your post this morning just after finishing an enjoyable but goose-bumps-as-always re-read of Octavia Butler's "Dawn"; the corollary occurs to me... people will change despite their best efforts to resist the change.

Despite the horror, we become the horror.

Despite a repugnance to torture, we are becoming the torturers.

Scary book (although not in the usual sense) to read in scary times.

IseultTheIdle said...

"Let him who hunts monsters take care that he does not become a monster.... when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."

You almost have to hate Nietzsche for being so damned right.

Assrot said...


I've been saying this since back in the 60s when I did two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Some people you just can't reach. The folks that run our military are at the top of that list. They are legends in their own mind and can do no wrong in their eyes. The ends justify the means was the military mindset when I served.


Mike said...

Excellent post, excellent comments.

One commenter pointed out that many people believe slavery has no lingering after-effects today because it was so long ago. That got me to thinking about another reason why torture is a terrible route to go down: the after-effects in world populations that already have good reasons to be at least suspicious toward (if not downright hostile to) the U.S.

Just as the invasion and occupation of Iraq has stoked hostility toward the U.S. in Arab and Muslim populations, the use of torture has had a deleterious effect on how non-Americans view the U.S. It's now impossible for many to view the U.S. as "good" and its foreign policy as anything less than malignant. Torture has poisoned the well for the U.S. in much of the world. Good luck fixing the problem, it'll take more than a little work.

The Bush administration's sadistic zealots have created a problem for years to come.

The Lazy Iguana said...

My grandfather was a very wise man. He once told me "you can not wrestle with a turd". At the time I did not understand just how profound those words were.

So when people say torture is justified, I simply agree. Yea. It is justified.

Now - what do you know about terrorism? Nothing you say? Well I do not believe you! You are lying! I know you have information that could prevent a terrorist attack!!

So, when would you like to be tortured so that I can get you to admit to what I think you know?

Problem is that they usually do not get it. They just get pissed off and accuse me of being an idiot. Or a Marxist. Or whatever.

Can't wrestle with a turd. You just get shit between your fingers.

I added the shit part. My grandfather would have never said that.

Unknown said...

Why do we allow the torture lovers to direct the debate? Whether it works isn't the fucking question..its about breaking the laws and contracts we signed as a lawful nation.

David Duff said...

Allow me to take the two strands of this dispute seperately.

Does torture work?

Two points instantly arise. First, what, exactly and precisely, you mean by "work". If you mean will it induce most people to divulge information against their will, then the whole history of the world tells you that it undoubtedly works. Examples of its success are legion.

However, merely eliciting the information is not the final test. It is what is done with that information that will decide its efficacy. But even that is not the end of the story. The information might be useful in a tactical sense but if you are fighting a losing war at the strategic level (out hostess pointed to the French in Algeria)then it will do you no good in the long run.

The second point is what you mean by "torture". I would suggest that, like pornography, it defies definition but you know it when you see it! Let us take two different scenarios at either end of a long spectrum. A suspect in a criminal case is arrested and held in jail. He is offered the use of a defence lawyer and all questioning takes place with that lawyer present. Strict (one might almost say 'fundamentalist') libertarians might suggest that even placing a man in a cell is 'torture', but most of would say that the procedure described above is acceptable and shifts the scales of justice to an even balance.

However, now consider the case where, say, you are the Colonel of a Battalion about to attack an enemy position and you capture a prisoner who you would reasonably expect to know the locations of some of the enemy's machine-gun posts that your soldiers will have to attack at dawn. Would you, or indeed, should you, demur at a few slaps and kicks and even the use of the lighted end of a cigarette to encourage him to speak? Remember that you owe a duty of care to the men under your command!

Now, if the first instance of the civilian criminal is clearly not torture, how would you classify the second? Would it count as 'torture'?

In the present situation we are engaged in a conflict (I choose that word carefully in order to avoid the word 'war') of a sort never seen before. Our leaders are (or at least, they should be) scrabbling about trying to work out how to conduct combat in this new style of 'conflict'. An important part of the combat will be the decision as to how 'PoCs' (Prisoners of Conflict) are dealt with, particularly in regard to extracting raw intelligence from them, an activity which has always been legitimate within armies ever since wars were first fought.

If you grant that the first instance I gave of the procedure that applies to civilian criminal suspects is inappropriate because it's useless in a conflict situation because no information will be forthcoming, then you have to decide what techniques are to be permitted for use by your soldiers - after all, you, as citizens, owe your soldiers a 'duty of care'! said...

Thanks for telling it like it is.

Unknown said...

Actually, there is one thing torture works wonderfully at: obtaining false confessions.

If you're an administration seeking to justify your actions, false confessions are very useful.

I just wonder if Dick Cheney notices the parallels between himself and Saddam Hussein.

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