On torture: I am against it but I also have this ever-so-slightly nuanced position…

Do we really want to go back to the Middle Ages?

I’m talking about President Trump resurrecting the notion that we should “torture” terrorist captives in order to extract information.

Now there is perhaps a difference of opinion on what exactly constitutes torture but I thought it had been a settled issue that waterboarding was indeed torture.


And right up front I have to note that torture would seem to be prohibited in our Bill of Rights, in the 8th Amendment to be more specific:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. (from Wikipedia)

I have not done actual legal research, but my quick check of the facts is that under current U.S. law “torture” is illegal. However, there is an ongoing debate as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture, with some legal interpretations issued that say yes and some no. This post is not specifically about that question.

 


 

In interviews I saw with Trump over the last 24 hours he clearly said he was in favor of “torture” — he used that word. Now apparently he was referring to waterboarding and not the rack or drawing and quartering people, but he used the word “torture” more than once and said he supports it and claimed that some people inside the world of terrorist interrogations claimed it is effective, while he previously disclosed that Gen. James Mattis, his Secretary of Defense pick, said it was not.

I myself would not argue whether it was effective, although I would doubt you could count on it. Torture me or you and the both of us might well say anything we thought our tormentors wanted to hear. I have read that in some cases terror suspects give erroneous information to make the torture stop and to mislead their interrogators.

But here’s the point as far as I am concerned: inflicting torture is morally wrong. If you don’t mind being immoral, then I guess that does not matter. And maybe more importantly it creates a danger. Once we officially engage in torture and make it known, we have no leverage against anyone else who might then inflict that torture on our own people and our actions might even encourage a wider-spread use of it against our people by any enemy. And more important than all of that is that once we go down the road of torture we shall surely fall into the abyss of immorality and lose our souls.

I know, I sound like some kind of preacher here. But it has unnerved me ever since this subject came up several years ago. I was appalled that normal people seem to be indifferent to the subject — I mean who cares what we do to people who are our enemies and for that matter would torture us (and then kill us) if they had the opportunity? Well I don’t care about the people we torture so much, but I care about ourselves and what it does to us as a people.

And there is always this argument presented: what if a child or other loved one of yours was being held hostage and in imminent danger, wouldn’t you want the authorities to use any means possible including torture to extract information to free your loved one?

That I feel is a loaded question of sorts. In such a situation you would surely act on emotion and sincere love for the one in distress and a justified sense of responsibility for the one in danger. In other words, if this makes sense, you would be seeing the micro picture but not the macro picture. Things of this nature are situational. But I come back to it being a loaded question because you are almost forced to choose one answer. I’ll leave the point there.

But, am I naïve? I grew up watching World War II movies. The story was that the Japanese and the Germans engaged in gross maltreatment of our prisoners of war. The Japanese especially were portrayed as being particularly brutal. On the other hand the story was always that we did not engage in mistreatment of prisoners. Well I was not there. I don’t know what may or may not have happened on our side.

I have read that there are far better ways to extract useful information from prisoners than torture. Gaining their trust and offering kindness and friendship (if only as a ruse) often is effective. They, like we would in the same spot, have a fear or concern about the unknown. They don’t know what might happen. So they are trying to figure out if cooperating might be in their own personal best interests. I mean isn’t that how our own police get confessions. You get arrested and even without any actual physical mal treatment you are held captive and have no way of knowing when it will end while you are kept hours in a hostile or extremely uncomfortable environment. You figure better to say something and make it end, make a deal, gain your freedom. A lot of false but signed confessions have been the result of all that.

And then that brings me back to something I noted in a previous post: while I don’t think we as a nation should officially recognize torture as legal and necessary, who knows what really goes on behind closed doors? A prisoner charged or suspected of a terrorist act or having important information might go into an interrogation with confidence he or she is protected by U.S. law from abuse but his captors might imply, that’s just the official story.

I am 100 percent against torture. I am sincere in that. I am not as enthusiastic about broadcasting to the whole world what we will and will not do. Keep ’em guessing.

So I have presented, at least between the lines, a somewhat nuanced position on torture.

p.s.

And as in capital punishment, there is always the possibility of the wrong person being detained. It has happened in many, many murder cases that resulted in executions (we have found out obviously after the fact) and in the detention of terror suspects.

 

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