Saturday, November 12, 2005

Can Torture Be Justified II--Who Would Jesus Torture?

If we have to talk about torture from a purely practical point of view (we don't, of course; it is inhumane and immoral, and lowers us as the torturers to a level below that of, well, the beasts. But then, so does war...), well, then:

If you inflict enough pain on someone, they will give you information, but what they tell you may not be true. You will have to corroborate it, which will take time. And, unless you kill every suspect you brutalize, you will make enemies of them, their families, maybe their entire villages. What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust - even with a terrorist, even if it's time-consuming - than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets, who believed that national security always trumped human rights.
So much for the "ticking bomb" scenario. And yes, he is saying that torture makes us no better than the Nazis we still like to remember defeating, or the Soviet Union we were so afraid of in my childhood. That which you most oppose, you most come to resemble, which is the whole problem with relying on power to solve your problems. But I digress.

Oh, and if you still want to argue that the torture victim would be proven right by the bomb being found in that silly hypothetical, Mr. Johnson describes his experience with torture in his CIA training:

At one point we were "captured" by faux terrorists. After being stripped naked and given baggy military uniforms, we entered a CIA version of Gitmo. We were deprived of sleep for 36 hours, given limited rice and water and forced to stand in place. Our interrogators - all U.S. military personnel - coaxed and harangued us by turns. Those of us who declined to cooperate were stuffed into punishment boxes - miniature coffins that induced claustrophobia.

After 30 hours, one of my classmates gave me up in exchange for a grape soda and a ham sandwich.
So, maybe if your "ticking time bomb" is running really slow, and you manage finally to "break" the suspect through various torture techniques, yeah, you might finally get the information you need.

But that scenario is so far removed from reality that, well, you torture logic even to propose it.

What does torture do? Create enemies. Dehumanize the torturer. Debase us as moral actors. As Mr. Johnson says: "We should never use our fear of being attacked as justification for dehumanizing ourselves or others."

Mr. Johnson praises Sen. Graham for his stand against torture. Of course, leaving prisoners imprisoned with no hope of release or appeal, is another kind of torture , so I cannot join Mr. Johnson in his encomium.

Torture is not only dehumanizing, it is unjust. And without justice, as Creon learned, we are doomed.

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