February 13, 2006
More Reasons Why Torture is a Bad Idea
The two Afghans were found dead within days of each other, hanging by their shackled wrists in isolation cells at the prison in Bagram, north of Kabul. An Army investigation showed they were treated harshly by interrogators, deprived of sleep for days, and struck so often in the legs by guards that a coroner compared the injuries to being run over by a bus...
But really, we can't blame the poor kids, can we, because how could they be expected to know what rules to follow?
...more directly than any other episode since 9/11, the Bagram cases have exposed the uncertainty and confusion among military interrogators and guards about how they were required to treat terror suspects after President Bush decided in February 2002 that they would not be protected by the Geneva Conventions.
Although the administration issued a general order that detainees should be treated humanely, internal military files on the case show that officers and soldiers at Bagram differed over what specific guidelines, if any, applied. That ambiguity confounded the Army's criminal investigators for months and left the prosecutors vacillating over strategy. It also gave the accused soldiers a defense that has seemed to resonate with some military judges and jurors.
"The president of the United States doesn't know what the rules are!" said Capt. Joseph Owens, a lawyer for one of the accused interrogators, Pfc. Damien M. Corsetti, who is one of two former Bagram soldiers still facing court-martial. "The secretary of defense doesn't know what the rules are. But the government expects this Pfc. to know what the rules are?"
Remind me the next time I go listen to a soulless, overly legalistic Administration official make pathetic excuses for man's inhumanity to man, I should bring something to record all the excuses for posterity.
Do the American people really want to be represented by a military force that plainly can't tell the difference between right and wrong? Have we already forgotten that "just following orders" has been discredited as a defense? Maybe John Yoo should rethink his opinion that any interrogation technique which doesn't cause pain equivalent to organ failure is justifiable - or heck, maybe it's worth making it clear at all top levels of the U.S. military and government that ratification of the U.N. Convention Against Torture actually means something, and that letting perpetrators of torture off with an honorable discharge, or even a few months in the brig, does not constitute making the deaths of innocent civilians "punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature."
Is that really the kind of example the U.S. wants to set? People who torture prisoners, even in wartime, get off practically scot-free? Seems like just the sort of thing that could backfire most unpleasantly.
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"Common sense?" "Our"? "We?"
To refer to one of my favourites, the problem with torture is that it is a blunder.
However, presenting this as being "represented by a military force that plainly can't tell the difference between right and wrong" is badly misframing the challenge.
Military forces do not "represent" - they fight. The issue is not "representing" at all, it is winning. Fighting the wrong battles and engaging in self-defeating behaviour of course does not help win such battles.
Ignoring anti-torture conventions raises the costs to the United States (and its allies as well, to get away from mere parochial national interest for a second). It likely generates more opposition, raising the cost to win. A short termist reaction.
At least in terms of the blundering wide-spread use of low-grade torture that the United States has begun to engage in. Blundering.
Representing doesn't enter into that. Wars and violence require unpleasant things to happen. Inhumanity to man if you want, but it is fundamental to conflict. Given the reality of that conflict, the fundamental challenge is winning. Winning not merely the battle but the war.
As well as looking out for long term interests.
Sadly the common sense of the individual soldier (and in the pressure of the moment, it may indeed make a great deal of sense to engage in short term violence to control violence) is not the best guide for long term interest, however one should respect the individual soldier and the dangers faced.
The key problem with having first allowed clumsy, blundering use of torture to become ordinary if not routine is (i) it is both natural and expected that as the story put it, the peers judging the soldiers will understand and contextualise the actions - letting their colleagues off at one level, even if disapproving of the actions, (ii) that the same actions will seem twisted and a confirmation of bad intent to the outsider.
Rather like the understanding my 'pious middle'of the Islamic world can extend to at least some portion of the jihadi activists.
Mirror image problems.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at February 13, 2006 09:17 PM
Will post further when I am not stoned out of my gourd on sinus medication.
However, one of the dangers of explicitly allowing physical interrogation techniques of nearly any sort, as Doug Cassell pointed out in the referenced debate (and he's a guy who knows a thing or two about torture and the military), is that interrogators rarely have the discipline to stop even when the rules specifically tell them to. And this is even more true when the rules are unclear and/or contradictory, let alone when they are just plain wrong.
(And yes, I do believe sometimes people should not do things because they are simply wrong, even if the immediate utility of being a moral human being isn't apparent.)
Posted by: Eva Luna at February 13, 2006 09:31 PM
One parting thought before the synapses totally shut down...despondent though I may be about the prevalence of torture, I can only console myself with the thought that John Yoo must have an awfully difficult time getting laid in Berkeley.
Posted by: Eva Luna at February 13, 2006 09:48 PM