Matthew Alexander on Torture

Alexander is a former Special Operations interrogator who worked in Iraq in 2006. His op-ed is worth reading:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

Also, this interview from Harper's:

In Iraq, we lived the "ticking time bomb" scenario every day. Numerous Al Qaeda members that we captured and interrogated were directly involved in coordinating suicide bombing attacks. I remember one distinct case of a Sunni imam who was caught just after having blessed suicide bombers to go on a mission. Had we gotten there just an hour earlier, we could have saved lives. Still, we knew that if we resorted to torture the short term gains would be outweighed by the long term losses. I listened time and time again to foreign fighters, and Sunni Iraqis, state that the number one reason they had decided to pick up arms and join Al Qaeda was the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the authorized torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay. My team of interrogators knew that we would become Al Qaeda's best recruiters if we resorted to torture. Torture is counterproductive to keeping America safe and it doesn't matter if we do it or if we pass it off to another government. The result is the same. And morally, I believe, there is an even stronger argument. Torture is simply incompatible with American principles. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both forbade their troops from torturing prisoners of war. They realized, as the recent bipartisan Senate report echoes, that this is about who we are. We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him.

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): Yet another interview.

Posted on December 30, 2008 at 6:37 AM • 73 Comments

Comments

ChiiDecember 30, 2008 7:41 AM

I thought that torture was not an effective method of extracting reliable information - because they might just say anything under duress. Bad intelligence is worse than no intelligence?

Clive Robinson December 30, 2008 8:04 AM

Torture just does not work, we have known this as (near scientific fact as we can get) for some considerable period of time.

All that happens is the person being tourtured will get to the point where they will tell you what you want to hear to stop it.

The person will know what you want to hear by the questions you ask and by the way you ask them. Their pain focuses their attention on the questioner rather more than the other way around so from that point they are "ahead in the game" and the questioner is over time going to lose.

The only times tourture has been shown to be of benifit is in the field to get quick information and when you want to make somebody confess to things they have not done.

If time is not of a critical nature being nice is likley to get you more acurate and indepth information and for longer.

Tourtur type punishment also adds to peoples resolve and sense of self justification and eventualy they will belive themselves to occupie the moral high ground.

There are so many things counting against it that it becomes clear that it says more about those who practice it than those on whom it is inflicted.

Also "outsourcing" it to other parts of the world and giving it a fancy name in no way changes what it is.

Torture is immoral bestial behaviour carried out for no other reason than a compleat lack of ability by those who sanction or carry it out.

AnonymousDecember 30, 2008 8:32 AM

I don't believe that, if the abuses at Abu Ghraib never occurred, these foreign fighters would have been disinterested in fighting against the U.S. They have been chanting death to America long before the Iraq war. The claim is patently absurd.

Harsh interrogation techniques should not be defined as torture; torture should only be defined in the severe degree. Otherwise relatively moderate pressure techniques for interrogation, being classified as torture, will become the excuse for captured U.S. soldiers to be severely tortured.

We should not torture, but we also should not define torture too broadly.

HJohnDecember 30, 2008 8:43 AM

I think the NY Times and like-minded publications have some share in the blame. Now, they had a responsibility to publish the Abu Graib abuses, no question, I am in no way saying they shouldn't. But they ran cover stories about it 50 days in a row, and barely a peep that we prosecuted and punished most of those responsible. That was newsworthy too.

The media shouldn't cover up what we do wrong, that's why we have a free press. But it shouldn't cover up what we do right either.

diemDecember 30, 2008 8:50 AM

> I don't believe that, if the abuses at Abu Ghraib never occured, these foreign fighters would have been disinterested in fighting against the US.

Maybe so. But there is a big difference between 'interest' and moving to a war zone to fight as an insurgent against a professional first world army.

jonny fiveDecember 30, 2008 9:00 AM

@Anonymous

"We should not torture, but we also should not define torture too broadly."

Torture is already defined by the UN Conventions Against Torture, which the US signed and ratified.

"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions."

GelfDecember 30, 2008 9:03 AM

Anonymous tough-guy: the people in the Middle East are people just like you. Some people over there have shouted "death to America," but from your rhetoric my supposition is you have had an unkind thought or two about them as well.

Think about your own situation. What would it take to move you from merely criticizing an honorable soldier's direct, firsthand experience on a blog to picking up a gun and going out to take lives or have yours taken?

Would some grave atrocity systematically committed against your people with the direct authorization of a foreign government do it? It would for a lot of people.

You aren't a slavering monster just waiting for an excuse to go kill people you despise, but there is only so much you will take of being wronged, even by extension, before you will become susceptible to persuasion that you need to take arms and action in opposition.

The same is true of them.

CGomezDecember 30, 2008 9:04 AM

Certainly torture is unreliable and inhumane, but the problem I have with this report is simple.

When you ask "why did you come fight?" Do you really think there is just one reason? Perhaps if there were no torture in place at detention centers, the answer would simply be "because of the detention centers" or "because you are occupying this land." We can't know for certain that these fighters would simply stay home. I imagine what is being reported here is merely an answer, and not the synthesis of reasons that someone decides to take up arms and fight.

I think we can simply rule out the use of torture on the grounds that it doesn't extract anything that is reliable and it is inhumane. There's no need to search for any other reasons and it's possible those causes are spurious anyways.

RashidDecember 30, 2008 9:17 AM

One thing to look at is the way they spin the word "torture". What happened at Abu Ghraib was not torture by any stretch. Was it wrong? Yes, but torture and abuse are two different entities. There was no torture at Abu Ghraib and the Army was actively investigating the abuse there when the media published the story. The author knows this and still chooses to use the word torture.

derfDecember 30, 2008 9:35 AM

"torture" has been hyped up as much as "terrorism" or "for the children". Yet again, the media has gone crazy trying to create scandal out of whole cloth. Torture has been redefined by the media to be putting someone in an air-conditioned room or in an un-air-conditioned room. At that point, everyone detained is being tortured.

John Phillips, FCDDecember 30, 2008 9:47 AM

Rashid, read the piece again, in the first paragraph, when talking about both Abu Grhraib and Guantanamo he talks about abuse not torture. Plus, the type of abuse prisoners were subjected to in Abu Ghraib is, from a muslim and Arab POV, about as bad as it can get. Not in a physical sense, but a psychological one and many would see it as just as bad if not even worse than physical torture.

Even many moderate young muslims I know, who have no truck at all with the violent wing of their religion, understood and felt the humiliation felt by muslims in general on seeing the pictures.

As to how many actually decided to go to Iraq because of the abuse/torture we will never know. However, when even moderate muslims feel the 'pain', so to speak, it isn't too much of a stretch to see that the less than moderate looking for an excuse would have one handed them on a plate. Does that mean it is the only reason they went, likely not as things are rarely that simple, but it might have been the tipping point for many looking for that final justification.

GelfDecember 30, 2008 9:48 AM

Yeah, or like being hooded and forced to stand on a tiny box with wires attached to you for hours, having been told that if you fall off you will be electrocuted, or being forced to lie naked in a pile of other people while somebody repeatedly punches you, or having a wounded limb beaten until it cannot heal, or being sodomized with a police baton, or having a cord tied around your genitals and being dragged around the room.

It's just shameful how the liberal media wants to spin little inconveniences like those by labeling them "torture." Mr. Lah-dee-dah Detainee is too delicate for a little forced sodomy, is he? Well, I suppose they expect us to keep him in a five-star hotel or something.

Mike BDecember 30, 2008 9:54 AM

I was listening to an interesting NPR interview with an author who just completed a book on the recent DoD torture policies and one of his points was that at some level torture is an effective interrogation tool as evidenced by the fact of its widespread use for thousands of years.

The problem with the blow to the image of the United States as a result of torture was is the fault of the CIA acting like a pack of morons and then the Bush administration acting like a bunch of arrogant yahoos. When the United States (or any other entity) decides to use enhanced interrogation techniques THEY CAN"T LET ANYONE FIND OUT ABOUT IT!! The DoD and CIA used very poor OpSec and very poor compartmentalization and therefore the knowledge of what they were doing spread quickly. Yes, we can have our cake and eat it too if the CIA gets competent about who it chooses to used enhanced techniques on and then does what needs to be done to keep the information under wraps.

The most effective thing that can be done to combat international terrorist organizations if to have their leaders just vanish, no show trials, no being blown up by a bomb, they just vanish, gone, forever and gaining control of all of their tactical knowledge is a wonderful plus. Of course to do this you need some basic competence in the agencies involved (ie dealing with only the highest level figured, not involving lots of support personnel who will blab to the press, remember that Jet Fans track all of your unmarked private jets, etc).

Matthew CarrickDecember 30, 2008 10:13 AM

Yeah, Mike, that Nacht und Nebel policy worked so well for the Nazis. Your idea would likely suffer from the dreaded "mission creep" and eventually torture would be SOP at the lowest levels where it would quickly degenerate into random violence for the amusement of the troops.

CalumDecember 30, 2008 10:13 AM

@derf: I think Gelf got his point across pretty effectively. More to the point: this treatment is not acceptable when used on American citizens, either by the American state or by anyone else. We don't beat confessions out of kidnappers or child molesters. Why should it be acceptable for anyone else?

RoyDecember 30, 2008 10:14 AM

Knowing that US troops would torture people to death, and shoot the wounded, and shoot Iraqis and domestic animals for sport, did not win us any friends.

dragonfrogDecember 30, 2008 10:15 AM

@Clive

"Tourtur type punishment also adds to peoples resolve and sense of self justification and eventualy they will belive themselves to occupie the moral high ground."

You could even leave out "believe themselves to" - once you torture, your victim _unquestionably does_ occupy the moral high ground.

PiskvorDecember 30, 2008 10:25 AM

@Mike B.: Do I understand you correctly as "If no-one's watching, anything The-Good-Guys(TM) do is good"? That's a nice set of double standards you have there.

Also, torture is an effective interrogation tool indeed, for having *any*body confess to *any*thing; hence its popularity with totalitarian regimes of every time and place (witch trials, anyone?).

AnonymousDecember 30, 2008 10:55 AM

Perfect validation our strategic and tactical post-911 success in Iraq!!! I.e., applying without precedent a preemption doctrine to a large number of globally-based actual and potential non-state combatants.

As a practical matter, how can you effectively confront and eliminate as much as possible non-state combatants? By compelling them and their non-human resources to confront your state's military in a single area in the world.

"Suck into Iraq" as many actual and potential combatants from around the world (especially those from the Mideast) and use our highly trained and sophisticated military personnel to eliminate them before or instead of non-state combantant projection of power and resources to the state's civilian population, economy, etc.

The great success of this strategy, however, inherently requires practical activities that are arguably inhuman. And it enherently is short-sighted because it demishes international standing and reputation.

If you believe we can achieve the same goals with these activities, go forth and change the world, the nature of mankind, and the reason why states exist (read Locke). It is an awesome and powerful vision of how the world should be.

As the administrations Post-9/11 response and strategy, historians decades from now will view the successful application of a preemption policy to non-state combatants as a brilliant and unprecedented state policy response to international non-state threats.

It is completly differnt than tactics employed in Isreal, Vietnam, Ireland (by the British), Spain (by Germany in WWII), Spain (by Napolean), the Roman Empire, Alexander the Great, etc.

In sum, bring them to the war against your strong resources -- do not bring the war to them.

Nick LancasterDecember 30, 2008 11:07 AM

@Anonymous:

If I understand your 'excuse' for torture and the War on Terror, and apply it to crime in America, instead of policing a neighborhood, we should just leave a pile of big-screen TVs in the middle of the street and arrest people as they come to take them. Of course, this can't be a neighborhood with a high crime rate; it should be somewhere upscale where the criminals aren't actually found.

Or perhaps the problem with your premise is that you're positing the solution must be a military one. Why not adapt your view to social/diplomatic efforts and attract people that way?

In the end, the facts are that we prosecuted a war against a nation that was not involved in 9/11, nor did it possess the WMDs we claimed they had.

This is never going to be a shining star of foreign policy, no matter how you spin it, no matter how much 'moral clarity' you manage to delude yourself with.

Check out "The Utility of Force" by Brig. Gen. Rupert Smith for a look at what we're really up against in Iraq. Or even 'One Bullet Away,' by Nathan Fick.

Nick LancasterDecember 30, 2008 11:43 AM

@PackagedBlue:

If the power is corrupt, then ANY power grab is intended to amplify that power.

Nor does 'not being corrupt' justify a power grab. This is what the advocates of torture seem to be trying to spin - that we're the good guys, that we can't possibly be doing anything wrong, and that their policies will ultimately be proven to be sound, effective, even justified.

When you've managed to absolve yourself of ethical and moral responsibility for your actions, crossing the line to corrupt is rather easy.

GeorgeDecember 30, 2008 12:30 PM

One important argument, that seems to be missing in most discussions about torture policy, is that high among the reasons for entering into agreements (like the Geneva Conventions) is to protect one’s own soldiers that are being held by an opposing force from treatment that might be considered extreme and harmful. Ignoring these agreements says something about the respect held for one’s own soldiers.

MuffinDecember 30, 2008 12:36 PM

@Anonymous: "I don't believe that, if the abuses at Abu Ghraib never occurred, these foreign fighters would have been disinterested in fighting against the U.S. They have been chanting death to America long before the Iraq war. The claim is patently absurd."

Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

Be sure to let Mr Alexander know, too! I'm sure that it'll be a real eye-opener for him to find out he was wrong all along.

But then, I guess it's to be expected: after all, he's only got 14 years of service and 1300 interrogations under his belt, whereas you are (in Slashdot-speak) an Anonymous Coward on the Internet who spent five seconds to reflexively disagree with something that doesn't fit into his world view. Of COURSE you are the one who's right, and we all bow to your superiority.

Tangerine BlueDecember 30, 2008 12:53 PM

@HJohn
"I think the NY Times and like-minded publications have some share in the blame."

Blame for what?

"barely a peep that we prosecuted and punished most of those responsible."

I'm not sure who you think is responsible for US foreign policy. But if policy makers such as Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, or Woo had been "prosecuted and punished", I'm sure the NY Times would have given it ample coverage.

SavikDecember 30, 2008 12:53 PM

Torture can work if you have multiple sources that did not have the chance for collusion. You can correlate the testimony they give and use what one says to manipulate another in giving more accurate information. That aside, when you are done with them you can try and get a little bit more info out of them by bring them together and telling one to talk right after you shoot another right in front of them. This method has proven time and again to work. But of course in isolation, torture does not work.

HJohnDecember 30, 2008 1:01 PM

@Tangerine Blue: "Blame for what?"

As is obvious in my post, for their one sided and exaggerated coverage. 50 days on the front page? Puh lease.

And as I said, they were right to cover it. Wrong to exaggerate it.

The abuses were reprehensible, no question. Nothing I said changes that. But the coverage was irresponsible, and driven by politics IMO.

Frater PlotterDecember 30, 2008 1:03 PM

"I was listening to an interesting NPR interview with an author who just completed a book on the recent DoD torture policies and one of his points was that at some level torture is an effective interrogation tool as evidenced by the fact of its widespread use for thousands of years."

That doesn't prove it works as an interrogation tool. All it proves is that it works for *something*.

For instance, it is apparently somewhat effective as a show of dominance: /pour encouragez les autres/, as they used to say. Torturing Ahmed tells Hassan and Mahmoud that you are the big boy on the block, just like beating up Billy on the schoolyard tells Jimmy and Joey the same thing.

Torture is also effective to destroy or discredit individual challengers or opponents, or to discourage thoughts of dissent, as the Soviet Union demonstrated. If what you want to prove is that you have total power over everyone, torturing a few dissidents (or supposed dissidents) into signing false confessions would be a pretty effective means of doing that.

For that matter, consider the effects of the threat of torture upon ordinary Americans. What exactly do you think "Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison" is about? Some part of the gut fear of imprisonment in the United States today is fear of prison rape -- which is to say, fear of a form of torture which is has become a systematic part of the prison world, unofficially tolerated because it is such an effective deterrent. Likewise the police in many parts of the country have a reputation for torturing arrested people -- that is, committing severe violence against arrestees who are already subdued. This serves as a means of mass intimidation: why do you think the Denver riot police have T-shirts that say "We get up early to BEAT the crowds"?

Mark RDecember 30, 2008 1:07 PM

re: "Suck into Iraq":

I didn't realize that was our strategy all along. Maybe that's because it wasn't the strategy our fearless leaders were selling in the run-up to the war.

But even if we accept that this was a strategic decision, why not just do this in Afghanistan, where there already were plenty of terrorists? Why invade a different country where there were far fewer of them? And finally, why spur "potential combatants" to action? Doesn't this imply that many of them would have lived out peaceful lives and never attacked us if we hadn't pursued this strategy you describe?

Perdidos MoralesDecember 30, 2008 1:13 PM

@Anonymous

"As a practical matter, how can you effectively confront and eliminate as much as possible non-state combatants? By compelling them and their non-human resources to confront your state's military in a single area in the world."

Well, that's a good strategy for getting votes from rednecks.

If you're really interested in eliminating "non-state combatants", a better strategy is to not create them in the first place. Stop training and arming radical insurgents, don't pile naked prisoners in pyramids.

You know, act like we're a stalwart beacon of freedom and goodness instead of insecure morons and pricks.

Mark HDecember 30, 2008 1:21 PM

@ Mike B:

"at some level torture is an effective interrogation tool as evidenced by the fact of its widespread use for thousands of years"

Effective, yes. Effective at what? Here are some of the effects:

* dehumanizing both the victim and the torturer

* savagely venting hatred

* inflicting punishment

* obtaining a confession, when the torturer does not wish to learn whether the victim is guilty

* gratifying the torturers' perverted sadism

* preparation for killing, when the killer's contempt will not be satisfied by mere death

* maintaining terror and subjugation in a group whose members are liable to torture

I don't doubt that many people around the world have wished to achieve these effects, for thousands of years. I believe there is a pretty strong consensus and intelligence and law enforcement professionals, that torture is NOT an effective form of intelligence gathering.

Many practices have been widespread for thousands of years, including:

* slavery

* cannibalism

* human sacrifice

* ritual mutilation

* rape

* lynching, and other forms of vigilantism

I invite you to join most of the civilized world in being deeply, deeply grateful, that these practices have been greatly curtailed, and are not tolerated by those many states around the world that abide by laws respecting human rights. These states don't tolerate torture either, and I for one will be grieving if President Obama does not return the U. S. to this status.

billswiftDecember 30, 2008 1:28 PM

One entertaining theory I came across was that Bush Sr encouraged and prompted Bush Jr to invade Iraq in order to show the world that Bush Sr was smart not to invade Iraq in the Gulf War, rather than weak.

billswiftDecember 30, 2008 1:33 PM

Most of my reading of history suggests that torture was not usually used to get information - it was normally used as a punishment, often torture-execution, such as "breaking on the wheel". The first widespread use of torture for information was supposedly the Catholic Inquisition, and the Protestant witch-hunts that followed. But the Inquisitors already were sure the victims were guilty in most cases - they were really after confessions and "fellow conspirators", that is more victims to torture and rob.

NoncombatantDecember 30, 2008 2:01 PM

I'm not an American and I'm not an Iraqi, or of Arab descent.

I'm not a Christian, not a Jew, not a Muslim.

But when I see a powerful country using torture - that country is my enemy, because it's the enemy of all civilized values.

The discussion of whether it's effective or not is irrelevant. But the fact that people argue about its effectiveness makes me despise those people. If torture were 100% effective in all cases, it would still be just as wrong. I don't care how many "lives it saves".

partdavidDecember 30, 2008 2:32 PM

One of the difficult things about discussing the use of torture and other morally reprehensible ways in which the U.S. prosecutes its interests, is that it's very difficult to gain any credibility for denial.

For example, everyone assumes that the most secret precincts of government spy on their own citizens illegally. That extralegal murder is sometimes used by government agencies for its convenience. This perception goes for just about every government in the world.

It is very hard to deny that, even when there is *no* evidence to the contrary. So when agents of the U.S. really do murder people, really do spy on people and really do torture them, it becomes absolutely impossible to deny it.

So I wonder if Abu Ghraib had never happened, or the other abuses that inspired foreign fighters to come to Iraq, had never happened, if it really would have made that much of a difference?

I have a friend who spent many years living and working in central Asia and many people there assume the U.S. is the author of all their misfortunes. For example, a small village was filled with people convinced that the CIA poisoned their well. To those people, agents of the United States are traveling to their inconsequential village in Afghanistan and poisoning their children and livestock for no reason other than that they are inspired by Satan to do so. I can't really see prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib inspiring those people to act against the U.S. any more than our feeding poisoned well water to their children would.

So while I think torture is bad policy, for so many reasons, I can't think Alexander's assertion completely correct. It certainly contributes to a generally negative view of the U.S. in the world, and that creates an atmosphere of hostility which is dangerous to us. But there's no reason to think that if Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo had not happened, that there wouldn't have been just as many foreign fighters in Iraq killing American soldiers, and giving something else as their #1 reason for doing so.

Nick LancasterDecember 30, 2008 2:32 PM

@Savik:

You postulate that torture is effective when dealing with 'multiple sources' that have not had an 'opportunity to collaborate.'

It would seem to me that torture will still be ineffective; each source will tell you something different, or give you exactly what you want to hear. ("Yes, yes, it was bin al-Shibh who told us to hijack the planes.")

If nothing matches up, then there is no sense in the pressure tactic of killing one in front of the others. And you face the possibility that you'll kill the one guy who might actually know something.

Torture works in movies and Tom Clancy novels. Its value against an organized, thinking enemy is questionable.

MoverDecember 30, 2008 2:40 PM

I'd like to comment on two fabrications.

The first lie: "No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo".

The Abu Ghraib incident wasn't brought to light until April or May of 2004. Al-Zarqawi, along with other "foreign fighters", fled Afghanistan and arrived in Iraq in 2002. The influx of more “foreign fighters” (or al-Qaeda) came after we de-throned Saddam. Long before Abu Ghraib and Gitmo stories.

And, number Two: "It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse."

Of course, it's an exaggeration. Practically everything that is written about the War has been exaggerated. Moreover, it comes from all sides. Quite a few of the insurgents were actually coerced Iraqis being pushed by murderous jackals like the coward al-Zarqawi. To assume most were foreign is exaggeration. And to assume that it is the result of abuse is more exaggeration.
.
Reality: The abuse excuse is just to get sympathy from those who may be able to influence the US involvement in the Middle East, such as mush brains in the legacy media. They then influence most the American voters. If any group is to be named the most responsible for the deaths of Americans in Iraq, my vote would go to the news services, i.e., the AP, NBC, CBS, ABC & CNN.

So face facts. Scum like al-Zarqawi, Bin Laden, & Saddam, only enjoy wielding power as expressed in their addictive lust for torture, murder and statues in their own likeness. And, that would be REAL torture and murder: Not the making-them-feel-bad pseudo-torture of Abu Ghraib.

boDecember 30, 2008 2:47 PM

@Noncombatant
> The discussion of whether it's effective or not is irrelevant.

To people of lofty moral values like yourself I'm sure that's true. To others, sometimes the end justifies the means. But if torture doesn't give the desired information, there's no rational justification for it at all, even among the ticking-timebomb, Jack Bauer crowd.

Frank Ch. EiglerDecember 30, 2008 2:50 PM

@jonny five:

"Torture is already defined by the UN Conventions Against Torture, which the US signed and ratified.
'any act by which severe pain or suffering, ...' "

And "severe" is unambiguously defined where?

HJohnDecember 30, 2008 3:02 PM

@jonny five: "Torture is already defined by the UN Conventions Against Torture, which the US signed and ratified."

So, if they want the benefits, let them put on uniforms and dressing like civilians.

Don't misunderstand, I'm against waterboarding, but keep in mind it was used 3 times against high level operatives, and banned years ago. I week not for Kalid Sheik Muhammed (sp?).

@noncombatant: "But when I see a powerful country using torture - that country is my enemy, because it's the enemy of all civilized values."

So, can you provide the documentation of the criticism and fight you waged against your enemy Saddam Hussein, who even had the bones crushed in the feet of children and had their eyes gouged out to control their parents? Or your protests against the hundreds of thousands of corpses he put in mass graves?

Or am I misunderstanding you when you say any powerful nation that engages in such acts is your enemy, or are you selective in your outrage? (I would find it questionable to have more outrage over a few abuses and three thugs dunked in water than real bone crushing child maiming torture.)

I repeat, I'm against waterboarding and am glad it is banned. So my questioning of this selective outrage isn't a defense.

JessDecember 30, 2008 3:32 PM

@Mover
>If any group is to be named the most responsible for the deaths of Americans in Iraq, my vote would go to the news services

Don't forget the high concentration of di-Hydrogen Monoxide in the Euphrates.

Trichinosis USADecember 30, 2008 3:40 PM

No one seemed to mind that Hussein was a psychotic dictator when he was OUR psychotic dictator.

No one seemed to mind when Osama bin Laden was OUR terrorist - when he was fighting the Russians, he was a "freedom fighter".

And Noriega. And so on. We recruit and install puppet dictators; we sell them weapons, arms and training; then when they stop buying or otherwise stop letting us push them around we turn them into enemies. This decades old "third world puppet" formula which the military/industrial complex first began using in Panama has got to be brought to an end.

By the way, all you American apologists, where IS Osama bin Laden, exactly? Why are we in Iraq at all? To bring them "democracy"? Bush can't even do that right in THIS country.

Mr. BlackwellDecember 30, 2008 3:52 PM

> So, if they want the benefits, let them put on uniforms and [stop?] dressing like civilians.

I agree. Arab couture is hideous. Let's make a special point to torture insurgents who wear black in the daytime or wear white on Labor Day. And baggy pants - so last year.

HJohnDecember 30, 2008 3:57 PM

@Mr. Blackwell: "I agree. Arab couture is hideous. Let's make a special point to torture insurgents who wear black in the daytime or wear white on Labor Day. And baggy pants - so last year."

So, do you have a point? Did you not see where I said I am against waterboarding and think Abu Graib was reprehensible? I was simply pointing out that the convention rules state that they should wear uniforms. They want us to follow the rules, but disregard the rules themselves. I don't see what is so controversial about the statement that I wish, if they think the conventions are so important, that they should follow them as well so they are easily distinguished from civilians.

Tangerine BlueDecember 30, 2008 3:57 PM

@Trichinosis USA
Well put. Nice review of US foreign intervention.

ps - I like Trichinosis, as long as your OUR Trichinosis.

Mr. BlackwellDecember 30, 2008 4:30 PM

@HJohn
"They want us to follow the rules, but disregard the rules themselves."

I was just having a little fun at your expense. I actually agree with you. Whenever I invade a country, I make it a point to torture alleged resistance fighters that don't adhere to the Geneva Convention. I mostly try not to torture uninvolved florists and fruit vendors, unless they might know something, and even then I don't really call it torture, just "extreme interrogation."

"if they think the conventions are so important, that they should follow them as well"

Exactly. The only thing that irks me more than when roadside bombers pontificate about the Geneva Convention, is when they get into these intellectual monologues about English Common Law and the Magna Carta. I mean seriously, these stuffy high falutin academician paramilitary forces expect foreign occupiers to bring them cupcakes and tea when they don't even wear their insurgent uniforms? Gimme a break.

ModeratorDecember 30, 2008 6:01 PM

Mr. Blackwell, I'll agree that was funny, but one identity on this blog ought to be enough.

Andrew ADecember 30, 2008 6:59 PM

There is an easy way to define torture, if one has the moral gumption. How would you feel about captured American POWs being subjected to it?

>> Harsh interrogation techniques should not be defined as torture; torture should only be defined in the severe degree.

So, my anonymous foe of freedom, you don't mind having American POWs subjected to harsh interrogation techniques?

>> We should not torture, but we also should not define torture too broadly.

How shamefully Orwellian.

George says >> One important argument, that seems to be missing in most discussions about torture policy, is that high among the reasons for entering into agreements (like the Geneva Conventions) is to protect one’s own soldiers that are being held by an opposing force from treatment that might be considered extreme and harmful. Ignoring these agreements says something about the respect held for one’s own soldiers.

This is exactly why serving soldiers are largely enraged by Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, abuses largely committed by noncombatant soldiers. Their flesh and blood pays for these abuses.

>> The first lie: "No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo".

The only lie here is the past tense. "Flock" not "flocked." Just saying.

Michael AshDecember 30, 2008 10:07 PM

The ultimate problem is that the American public has somehow been tricked into thinking that the United States is in a desperate fight for survival. In that context, nearly anything can be justified or at least rationalized. I think that before we can convince the public that we must stop torturing people, we first have to convince the public that the US's survival is not at stake, nowhere close to being at stake, in the current fight.

And of course let's not forget that the real reason, the proper reason, not to torture is that it's morally wrong. Even if torture were a perfect solution to winning the war on terror and solving the economic crisis we still should not do it. That it's counterproductive just puts a light underline to this.

stevelaudigDecember 30, 2008 10:44 PM

"We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him."

"Ought not" is different from "have not". And just who is the "we" he is referring to. Besides it has already happened. Now the question is whether "we" [meaning they, the government] can be redeemed. That will only come about by credible prosecution of the torturers and that "cannot" happen. The Bush years will have ended the last shred of credibility for American exceptionalism, if not at home, then around the world. The U.S. has now joined the other other empires in terms of technique but that was foreshadowed in Vietnam. Thus always empires.

BF SkinnerDecember 31, 2008 7:36 AM

Method in interrogation is everything. Alexander is saying that his methods were more effective. The Guantanmo model was reverse engineered from the SEAR training our military is given. The SEAR training was developed to counter act Korean methods. The Korean method was designed to ellict confessions not information. (ask the guys on the Pueblo).

The Guantanamo Model was based on a falicy. Everyone of consequence in the Army and CIA knew that the President and Vice President were directing them to torture. Why did Tenant destroy those video tapes? They were evidence that could be used against the interragators.

I'm watching the Presidents final pardon's and executive orders. They've had 6 or 7 years to prepare for the change in administration.

Johnny UtahDecember 31, 2008 7:45 AM

I find the whole notion of what "is" and "is not" torture interesting. We can and do lock people up, abuse them in a variety of ways and claim it's not torture, holding no one accountable because it is done under the guise of "national security".

But when my neighbor slaps the face of his 14 year old for being mouthy or insulting, he is locked up in prison for child abuse. Abuse is abuse, child or adult. We are no different than our enemies, and just like our enemies we justify our actions claiming the moral high ground justifies the action.

Every society has different standards of conduct that are acceptable. We support dictators as long as they play ball, we don't have to look any further than Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein as recent examples. Both were explicitly supported by the US government and it's intelligence agencies until we grew tired of them. Our solution, invasion, kidnap or capture. Were these bad people, compared to who us? We punished Saddam for abusing his own people, yet we do the same thing to those we dislike and thumb our nose to the rest of the world. We claim strapping a bomb to your chest and walking into a crowded building blowing yourself up is an act of terrorism, yet we have no problem dropping a bomb from a pilot less drone hovering overhead, killing innocent woman and children whose only crime was to be standing next to an intended target. It's ironic that those that have the better toys, in this case the weapons of war, want to banish other countries from obtaining them, why is that?

G SarducciDecember 31, 2008 7:53 AM

Abandoning torture because it creates more enemies, not because its wrong - great I feel better.

Nick LancasterDecember 31, 2008 10:41 AM

@BF Skinner:

The correct acronym is SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). Just an FYI.

TerryDecember 31, 2008 11:34 AM

As a Beirut Marine I have as much reason to hate Muslims and Arabs as anyone. However I know that by far most Arabs and Muslims don't hate America and don't condone suicide bombing. But thats pretty much the only depiction of Arabs you see in the U.S. Torture and mistreatment of prisoners is immoral and very, very counterproductive. Not only does it greatly stir up others who will give their lives to kill you it is also bad for unit discipline to let soldiers or Marines engage in activities that are clearly wrong by the U.S. Military Justice codes. There is such a thing as an illegal order and you are not required by military law to obey them. Most of these people didn't even do anything as the U.S. military has admitted. For torture alone Bush, Cheney, and their cronies need to be charged with violating the Constitution and rules of land warfare. The thought of these draft dodging asshole puffing up their chests and ordering torture makes me sick.

TerryDecember 31, 2008 11:36 AM

I have been to several SERE schools while in the Marines and I know very well what happens there. It's not anything like what we have done to these people.

AnonymousDecember 31, 2008 11:40 AM

"So face facts. Scum like al-Zarqawi, Bin Laden, & Saddam, only enjoy wielding power as expressed in their addictive lust for torture, murder and statues in their own likeness. And, that would be REAL torture and murder: Not the making-them-feel-bad pseudo-torture of Abu Ghraib."

Yeah Mover I agree with your first statement. I don't beleive it's because of their religion or that they really care about palestine. They are power hungry psychopaths/sociopaths.
But calling what happened in these places psuedo torture is bullshit. Multiple people have DIED during what you call psuedo torture. Everyone who thinks Iraq is justified better either have been in the military, be in the military now, or join the military to risk their life, limb, and sanity like people over there now or else your just another chickenhawk

Brandioch ConnerDecember 31, 2008 1:43 PM

@Andrew A.
"So, my anonymous foe of freedom, you don't mind having American POWs subjected to harsh interrogation techniques?"

Why limit it to POW's?

If it isn't torture, why not use it during regular criminal investigations?

Even better, why not use those techniques during regular CIVIL investigations?

If it's good enough for Saddam, it's good enough for the USofA, right?

GeorgeDecember 31, 2008 6:40 PM

I have long been convinced that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other senior Bush administration officials authorized and encouraged torture not because of its supposed "intelligence" value but because of their lust for consolidating Executive Branch power. In other words, they tortured because they could (even while insisting that "the United States does not torture"-- they have the same contempt for the truth that they have for the Rule of Law). Presumably if they could justify the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the name of "protecting America," they could justify doing anything they want.

It is completely irrelevant whether the "enhanced interrogation techniques" they authorized and encouraged actually produced any useful information, or whether it actually harmed national security. The only thing that mattered to them was asserting and exercising the power to torture, just as they asserted and exercised the power to circumvent, violate, or ignore whatever laws or constitutional constraints got in the way of what they decided was their "inherent power." Indeed, from their perspective they may even consider it advantageous if the use of torture puts the United States in greater danger, since that merely provides additional reasons to assert even more power.

What we know about the administration's abuses is sufficient to constitute grave damage to our national security. And other abuses that remain secret may perhaps have done even greater damage. The next administrations will have the nearly impossible task of identifying and cataloging all that damage, let alone repairing it. And the worst abuse of all is that nobody in the Bush administration will ever be held accountable for the damage they did. Next month they'll be walking away whistling, to enjoy untroubled lives of privilege and luxury that they surely believe is a perpetual entitlement.

TruePathJanuary 1, 2009 3:06 PM

First of all it's a well established fact that people's rationalizations for their actions are often only weakly linked or even entierly unrelated to the causal factors that made them make the deciscion. There have been some great experimental validations of this point but a bit of common sense tells you that it's also true about why people say they go to war. Leaders and social groups cite justifications for killing the enemy and this is what people will say if you ask them why they are fighting but history shows us that often a much weaker or totally fabricated reason would do just as well.

In short it's a PLAUSIBLE (perhaps even likely) theory that incidents of abuse at abu gharib and other places have significantly increased the number of insurgents targeting Americans but THE FACT THAT INSURGENTS CITE THIS AS THEIR JUSTIFICATION IS NOT GOOD EVIDENCE.

------

Also there is a huge difference between the ticking bomb scenario which usually has us imagine a nuclear weapon secreted in New York and the explosions common in Iraq. Now I certainly agree that the US has probably harmed itself with it's publicly visible abusive practices. Indeed, I would strongly favor restricting these practices.

However, while we might want to outlaw torture in all cases to properly deter the practice that doesn't mean that it isn't morally justified in sufficiently extreme hypothetical situations.

WinterJanuary 5, 2009 3:20 AM

You all forget the other victims in Abu Graib:

The Other Prisoners - Rape of Women Prisoners in Iraq

http://sumoud.tao.ca/?q=node/view/52

"In Iraq, the existence of photographs of women detainees being abused has provoked revulsion and outrage, but little surprise. Some of the women involved may since have disappeared, according to human rights activists. Professor Huda Shaker al-Nuaimi, a political scientist at Baghdad University who is researching the subject for Amnesty International, says she thinks "Noor" is now dead. "We believe she was raped and that she was pregnant by a US guard. After her release from Abu Ghraib, I went to her house. The neighbours said her family had moved away. I believe she has been killed.""

News reports later indicated that (almost) all of the women were dead. After release, they were either killed by their families or committed suicide out of shame.

Note that the US Army does know what happens to raped women in such barbarous countries. They have been there long enough.

Winter

Clive RobinsonJanuary 5, 2009 4:08 AM

@ Winter,

Lindsay English has commented on that there where few (probably four) women prisoners she knew of, however she is aware of atleast one US male soldier/guard performing sex acts with/on atleast one women prisoner.

And to be honest from other reports of US male personel "inflicting" themselves on female personel I'm not overly surprised.

A large number of the female lower ranks are not exactly well educated or self assured, for some the army was a way out of their civilian lives and environment which often involved abuse of one form or another.

Although Ms English came in for the worst of the press attention, there where atleast four other women involved with the abuse, all of whom apear to have been led by a single male who was also inflicting his sexual interests on them (he photographed himself performing a less than normal sex act on Ms English).

I think it would be safe to say that the conditions in and around these detention centers is not something that ordinary civilians can readily comprehend.

There is an expression you ocasionaly hear "The norms of insanity" which is used to describe situations where otherwise unacceptable behaviour is the norm and most people when put in the environment simply give up trying to behave in an acceptable manner and fall into line with the norms. This is esspecialy true of places that use the cover of security / secrecy which engenders a very strong group think culture.

It takes openness, strong oversight and frequent random independant monitoring to stop these norms building up which is probably why the findings on the abuse point the finger at the out going presidential cleaque. Who's comment so far is in it's self deplorable and shames the US personel who they commanded so recklessly.

ModeratorJanuary 5, 2009 6:46 AM

Rip,

You've been posting a lot of highly incendiary political rants to this blog lately, often dragging in political issues unrelated to the topic. You may have noticed that they tend to get deleted. This is not the place for that; please stop.

101st MI CompanyFebruary 1, 2009 9:36 AM

I was an interrogator in Viet Nam, late in that war. I did a number of interrogations at an ARVN prison in Hue and others "in the field" in I Corps. There was a different approach for each situation.
In the field, the interrogation usually took place during or immediately after a fire-fight or engagement of some sort. The participants were trying their best to kill or maim each other by any possible means, and so it is not surprising that these interrogations tend to be on the brutal side. Also, there is frequently a need for immediate tactical information --how many enemy are present on the battlefield, what kind of weaponry do they have, what is their mission, etc. Fine compunctions about inflicting "severe pain and suffering" on someone you were trying your best to kill in battle simply did not come into play.
In prison, however, the exigency is gone and unless you are a sadist, there is no compelling reason for abuse. I never witnessed or heard of a single incident of prisoner torture or other abuse in that setting. I knew of no one in the US Army that would condone it there.

MyronFebruary 2, 2009 1:18 PM

Doesn't it stat in Tsun Tsu "The Art of War" that in order to defeat an enemy, you have to WIN thier hearts and minds.

ScottJanuary 15, 2012 3:40 PM

Without coming across like a know it all, I'd like to say that I think some of you are missing the point.
Those of us that are against torture, are not saying that AL Qaeda would immediately lay down their arms because we stopped torturing people. We are simply saying that Al Qaeda would not able to recruit fighters as easily as they are because of torture. You can argue and throw all this knowledge you all have at me about this and that, but it doesn't change anything. We are talking about pissing someone off when they see their friends and relatives abused. Especially on world wide TV.
Tell me how does it make you feel when you hear about someone being kidnapped and abused or tortured in your neighborhood by someone? That's an easy answer isn't it? People are people.

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