I’m getting SO tired of SO many people saying that the United States is torturing suspected terrorists. It’s unbelievable to me that it is so easy for news commentators or politicians or arm-chair quarterbacks to give the rest of the world the impression (and I think they honestly believe this) that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice sit around all day trying to think up new ways to torture people. “Whom can we drag into the chamber next?” “Where should we put the next CIA gulag?”
That’s just utterly ridiculous, and I’m getting sick of people like Howard Dean or John McCain implying otherwise.
I don’t know a single person (politician or otherwise) who has given me the impression that cutting off fingers or electrifying genitals would be okay with them. Even in the Abu Ghraib scandel — where you could make the argument that we actually did torture people — the people who did it are being prosecuted. Some are already in jail. It’s the terrorists who are lobbing people’s heads off with machetes, not us. We’re not even in the same universe.
So I want to know what “torture” is. To me, if we cause someone irreparable physical harm (chop something off or beat someone bloody), then we’re torturing, and I don’t think we should be doing it. That’s torture, and I’m against it. We’re better than that. Shooting someone in the leg, breaking fingers, shock treatment, etc. This stuff’s right out.
But scaring someone. Threatening them with words. Loud music. Dogs barking. Sleep deprivation. Stripping them naked. Scantily clad women making them feel uncomfortable. Keeping them in a really hot or cold room. Maybe even slapping them around a bit if necessary. All this stuff, if it breaks them and saves lives, then I’d approve it. I’m not happy about it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t get my jollies from it. But it’s an unfortunate, though necessary, part of war.
I guess what I’m tired of is all the worry and concern and hand-wringing over the emotional well-being of captured terrorists. I just don’t have much sympathy on that front, because I’m much more worried about sparing the tens of thousands of people who would lose somebody and have their lives irrevocably altared in the next 9/11 (if it were to occur). I think their safety and their emotional well-being comes first. Period. And if a few captured terrorists have a few bad days in prison to get it, then so be it.
Now, I can already hear you asking, “How do we know they’re actually terrorists? What if they were just barbers that took a wrong turn in Kandahar and ended up at Gitmo?” First, I can’t believe people actually think that’s the case. How incompetent do you have to assume our military is for that to happen?!
But second, I agree (in a sense). We should only rough up / make really uncomfortable the guys who have been tried in the military tribunals and found guilty, or whom we believe have information we need immediately. In those cases, the guy who went through three different levels of scrutiny before ending up in Guantanamo (because that’s what it takes) goes into cold-exhausted-rap-music-break-him-now mode. And I won’t really feel that bad about it.
And another thing… When John McCain implies we’re becoming like the enemy, it’s just plain insulting. How are we even close to the enemy, Senator? And when Nancy Pelosi or Howard Dean or Ted Kennedy says we’re torturing people, and Al-Jazeera puts that in primetime in Saudi Arabi, they don’t envision barking dogs, Hooters girls and loud music — they envision limbs being ripped off. And neither the enemy without nor the enemy? within bothers to clarify. Shocking that they’d hate us so much!
Last point before I get to my question… I heard one of the analysts on Fox News the other day say that we should use the following test to determine what are coercive interrogation policy should be… “If we would be comfortable with Al-Qaeda doing X to our troops when captured, then it’s all right for us to make X a part of our policy for interrogating prisoners.” He was making the point that we wouldn’t want the enemy who had captured our soldiers to strip them naked, lock them in a cold room and play the Red Hot Chili Peppers really loud (which is what the CIA did to extract vital information from Abu Zubaydah a couple years back), so we shouldn’t do that to the poor terrorists.
That’s SO ridiculous. First of all, our soldiers would be thrilled with that treatment. Unfortunately, we have to train them to be prepared to get mutilated by the enemy if captured. The second thing that really bothers me is that every time I hear someone (typically a conservative) say what I just said, I seem to always and immediately hear someone else (typically a liberal) say that just because they do it doesn’t mean that we should. Of course that’s true! Of course we shouldn’t! But that’s not what I’m saying, and I don’t think that’s what any conservative I know of is saying either. My point is that the same standard shouldn’t be applied.
The Fox News analyst’s test is totally invalid / fallacious. If our marines were the ones running around blowing up cafe’s and hospitals, beheading prisoners of war, and flying civilian airliners into buildings of more civilians, then YES … I would cetainly approve the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a cold room for them. If it were me, I’d probably approve more. But because we aren’t doing that kind of thing (not even close), we can’t use the same standard with the two sides. We are better than they are … more noble, more honorable. It’s extreme for us to “waterboard” someone. For the terrorists, there is no such thing as extreme. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s a totally invalid comparison. We cannot be too idealistic or theoretical, or we won’t be able to beat them.
All this brings me to the question… What does it mean to torture someone? Define it for me. And let’s get past all this nonsense about how the US is 30-seconds away from becoming like the enemy. Give me a break! We’re not even on the same planet.
Technorati tags: torture, abu ghraib, war on terror
First – John McCain is an actual torture victim, so I place his opinion above yours, mine, and the presidents.
Second – “I guess what I’m tired of is all the worry and concern and hand-wringing over the emotional well-being of captured terrorists.” What about Maher Arar? A completely innocent man who was tortured. Or the dozens of people who have been released without any charges. Again, we must differentiate between terrorists and suspected terrorists. Most of the people in Guantanamo were not captured by U.S. soldiers, they were turned in by accusers. Many probably are guilty, or a bitter ex-wife may be getting back at her philandering husband. Without any evidence, trial, etc. we don’t know. I know if I were waterboarded, sleep deprived, and borderline hypothermic, I would confess to the Kennedy assassination.
As for the definition of torture, Common article 3 does not seem vague at all to me.
“The Third Geneva Convention primarily regards the treatment of prisoners of war. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. “
I wasn’t so much looking for you to copy-and-paste part of the Geneva Convention — which was originally intended to apply to uniformed military combatants and not to terrors, which is pretty clear from Article 4, but which our Supreme Court extended to the terrorists only recently — but with the question of how it should be interpretted. What do “cruel treatment and torture”, “outages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” actually mean in practice?
Does it mean no loud music? Does that mean no Hooters girls? Does it mean a certain room temperature must be maintained? Would it be inhumane to withhold from them a television or a minibar? What about a copy of the Koran or an arrow pointing to Mecca? Is waterboarding too extreme? Can we slap them around? Can we threaten their familes, even though we have no intention of carrying out the threats? Can we lie to them? It’s hot in Cuba, what about air conditioning?
Depending on whom you ask, all of these could be considered “cruel or inhumane treatment”. This is what I’m trying to get to the bottom of. What should we be able to do to them? Or is it just “name, rank and Jihad cell number” and that’s it?
I have to admit I get a little frustrated with the “You fool, didn’t you read the Geneva Convention” response. We all know about it. Now let’s get to specifics.
> John McCain
I know he’s a victim of torture, and I feel for him. This however does NOT mean that 1) his opinion cannot be questioned, 2) my opinion is invalid, 3) his is the only valid opinion by which our country’s policies should be set. Surely you’re not implying any of these, are you?
> Maher Arar
You’re right. It looks like (the jury’s still out, actually) he might have been wrongfully imprisoned. This is obviously a bad thing, and I’m not in favor of it. But he was never at Gitmo, and never imprissioned in or by the US. He was imprissioned and claims to be tortured by Syria. So, I’m not sure how his story has much to do with what we’re talking about.
> Dozens of people who have been released without any charges
There are currently 455 prisoners at Gitmo, and I think I remember explicitly saying that they should be charged and tried before military tribunals. They should NOT be given civilian lawyers and run through the civilian courts in the US. They are not US citizens, and were not even captured on US soil.
> Most of the people in Guantanamo were not captured by U.S. soldiers, they were turned in by accusers. … or a bitter ex-wife may be getting back at her philandering husband.
How do you know that? Unless you have evidence to support this, it boils down to your fundamental assumption that the US military and intelligence must be either corrupt or stupid or both. Unless you have proof to base this on, you’re essentially choosing to believe the terrorists over the military. Interesting, because I know you were IN the military. Tell me how you arrived at this conclusion.
I fundamentally believe a person (any person) is innocent until proven guilty. Therefore the burden of proof lies with the military/intelligence. I will believe the accused terrorists until proven otherwise.
As for the assertion of most people being turned in. I read this in an article, but can’t remember where, so I will recind unless I can find it later.
Maher Ahar (a Canadian citizen) was arrested by U.S. personnel under suspicion of terrorism in NY, during a layover on a trip home. He was then taken by U.S. personnel to Syria. There may be some debate about who was in control in Syria, but our involvement in this matter is embarrasing at best.
“Surely you’re not implying any of these, are you?” Of course not, all I stated was that I value his opinion more.
A military general (I don’t have the time to look up articles on this unfortunately) stated that he would prefer we didn’t allow any torture or try to define torture too well. He would rather know he was breaking the law if he did anything that might be construed as torture. Then face the consequences, even if his actions saved thounsands. I deeply respect and admire his position.
waterboarding = torture
extreme temps = torture (roughly below 50F or above 100F) without some form of protection (coat, ample water, etc.)
sleep deprivation = torture
extreme psychological abuse = torture (yes you can say bad words).
If any reasonable psychologist would believe that an action could cause PTSD, then that would be torture.
If these people are fairly convicted and proven to be guilty their are situations where torture may be warranted.
We treat civillian criminals with certain rights and dignities, we treat prisoners or war with certain rights and diginities, I don’t see how these people don’t fall into one of those categories.
I didn’t find the original article, but here is one with the same information. However, it is presented anecdotally without references.
“If we would be comfortable with Al-Qaeda doing X to our troops when captured, then it’s all right for us to make X a part of our policy for interrogating prisoners.” Hmmm… so if they can chop heads off and rape women does that apply?… doesnt make sense …
I doubt “we” would be comfortable with Al-Qaeda doing this to our soldiers. I doubt we would be comfortable with any action beyond Geneva-Hague.
I freely admit that I’m a relatively squeamish pacifist, so I won’t even try to get into a definition of torture. I will say that I can see the need for putting prisoners in uncomfortable situations in order to extract information in some situations.
There are two points I’ve seen brought up in this discussion that I want to make sure don’t get overlooked in all the talk of beheadings and loud music. Brad pointed out that our justice system is based on the assumption that people are innocent until proven guilty; this is a fundamental part of our nation’s rights and freedom, and I do not think we should start making exceptions. Given that, I agree with Jeff that whatever tactics are deemed appropriate, none of them should ever be applied until a person has been through a thorough trial/tribunal process and been determined to have actual, concrete links with terrorism.
And personally, I do think the standard of “Would we be okay with this being done to our soldiers? If not, let’s not do it to anyone else.” makes a good deal of sense. I think it makes a pretty good litmus test of what is or isn’t acceptable. But that’s just me, and I thank God that I’m not the one who has to make this kind of decision.
Yes part of our justice system is to be innocent until proven guitly… with the exception of John Walker Linde… none of these terrorists are citizens of the US why should our constitution apply to them because no matter what we do to appease other nations… they will never give us the same courtesy we give there prisoners. Yes there are the horrible cases were the prisoners are sexually harassed, but that is not all the case, and our guards should be punished for it… but remember they do worse to American soilders in other countries, and not just soldiers but journalists and reporters and anyone else who is obviously American…. One more thing… had it not been for “waterboarding” the recent plot to use liquids to blow up planes would not have been discovered. Through that “Torture” thousands of lives were spared.
With the exception of John Walker Linde… none of these terrorists are citizens of the US why should our constitution apply to them because no matter what we do to appease other nations… they will never give us the same courtesy we give there prisoners. had it not been for “waterboarding” the recent plot to use liquids to blow up planes would not have been discovered. Through that “Torture” thousands of lives were spared.
Most interrogators that I have seen lately appear to have the experience that they catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I.E. witness protection, reduced charges, Amnesty, etc. This yield both more information and more reliable information.
It seems common knowledge among most psychologists that most information recieved from torture is worthless.
Abigail, I am sad to see that you would like our standards held to the lowest common denominator. However, I have realized something. Our presumption of innocence is based on the accusation of a crime, regardless of citizenship. Since most of the alleged “terrorists” are not actually accused of doing anything we have nothing to presume innocence or guilt over.
Brad… One of the places where your argument breaks down is that we have to apply it in the real world.
Yes, it is theoretically nice to say that we’ll treat every human being on earth the same, no matter how savage they are. The problem is that this mindset gets you killed.
Yes, it would be nice if everyone on earth played by the same rules as our constitution, but in the real world, if we extend constitutional protections to *everyone*, regardless of their national affiliation, then it overwhelms are system. Imagine giving civilian lawyers and trials to everyone suspected of terrorism in Iraq. Sammy Al-Arian’s trial took four years and cost plenty of cash to execute. How could we possibly scale that?
Also, there is much debate over how successful coercive interrogation methods are. I’m not sure your statements that it’s (near) useless can be made so confidently. Also, nobody is prescribing that waterboarding be the universal means for how information is extracted from suspected terrorists. All I want is for the option to be left on the table for extreme cases. Isn’t it obvious that most of the time we would play nice unless we *had* to place mean because the clock was ticking, many lives were at stake, and we didn’t have time to play games? I just can’t see hamstringing us by taking more extreme options off the table in those situations. Even if I were to agree in theory that we should be “nice to everyone”, I know that where the rubber meets the road people would die because of it.
Look at the plot that was foiled recently to fly more planes into things. The CIA claims that coercive methods were used to get information that helped bring these guys down, because time was of the essence.
Now if that’s true, there are a bunch of what-if’s attached. What if they hadn’t been able to rough these guys up a little (because Brad’s world was reality — where all you can do is ask the guy polite questions), and these guys hadn’t been stopped? What if they’d succeeded in flying a couple more planes into a couple more buildings? What if hundreds or thousands would have died?
So, I guess my new question is simple… What’s it worth to us to remain “pure” here? Does it matter how many people might die if we tie the CIA’s hands behind their backs? The world is not “ideal”. Even if I were to agree that theoretically we should never do anything but politely ask questions (which I don’t — which any police officer will tell you is ridiculous), it is just impractical. To think that it is reflects a serious naivete about the world, in my opinion.
Abigail, I realize that we are largely not dealing with US citizens here, so the presumption of innocence may not apply legally. I’m talking about it applying morally. Our constitution was written to outline the rights that the founders believed should be inherent to all human beings. Of course, they only had the ability to enforce them within their nation, but that dosn’t mean that a person is less of a human being for not being a US citizen.
In short, if it can be proven that a person in custody is involved in terrorism or other criminal acts, then it’s appropriate to move to a harsher level of interrogation, whatever that may be. But that person’s involvement needs to be proven first. I, for one, don’t believe that combatting terrorism should be an excuse to abandon the beliefs in human rights that this country was founded on.
And Jeff, I think it’s a bit hyperbolic to say that Brad or I have suggested that polite questions are the only option for interrogation. Yes, there needs to be a line, and I’d probably not place it as far as you would, but I don’t think anyone in this conversation has suggested placing it that far back.
And yet neither of you will take it upon yourselves to define where the line is, which was my question in the first place. Article 3 of the Geneva Convention is very vague. I’ll ask again, what do the terms it uses, such as “outages upon personal dignity” and “humiliating and degrading treatment” actually mean?
And I absolutely agree that we should extend the pinciple of “innocent until proven guilty” to non US citizens. Now, explain to me how we do that on the battlefield? We know the terrorists hide in masques behind women and children. We know that they will shoot on site and brutally mutilate anyone (of ours) that they capture. If you were their commanding officer, how would you suggest that they approach the masque? Surely you do not expect them to get a warrant, knock or read them maranda rights. So, I ask again, how do we make these ideals practical? How should the average marine behave on the battefield?
Where we agree is that I believe we should NEVER have kept people in Gitmo for as long as we did without a trial. Now we’re in a pickle, though, because the Supreme Court has ruled that we can’t do the military tribunal thing. I thought that was a great / obvious solution. We just should have done them *much* quicker. So again I’m left not knowing how we’re going to give these guys a “fair trial” other than to put them in our civilian system, which is crazy.
So I agree with ALL the principles you guys are aspousing — in theory. That’s not the issue. My problem is that I can’t figure out how you expect these things to be practically appied. Help me out here. How do we keep from getting killed because we’re living in a la-la-land of the theoretical and ideal.
Also, I notice that when the media calls us torturers, they don’t seem to make the distinction that you are, Neva. When McCain or the NYT just throws words like “torture” around, don’t they know that those statements will be spun on the Arabic street as “we’re lobbing off the heads and arms of poor innocent barbers who made a wrong turn somewhere in Afganistan and ended up at Gitmo”? Maybe we could also be a little more careful than that?
As I said before, I think the definition must be intentionally vague. Or if it is not explicitley allowed it is forbidden. People can unfortunately get very creative when torturing others. That said I stick with my original definition. If any reasonable psychologist would believe that an action could cause PTSD, then that would be torture.
“Isn’t it obvious that most of the time we would play nice unless we *had* to place mean because the clock was ticking, many lives were at stake, and we didn’t have time to play games?” NO
“What if they’d succeeded in flying a couple more planes into a couple more buildings? What if hundreds or thousands would have died?” No faith in the TSA? They were planning to blow up planes, I don’t think any terrorist would be able to gain control of a plane in this day and age. Not that blowing up a plane is OK.
“What’s it worth to us to remain “pure” here?” The moral high ground, our standards as a nation.
As far as the difference between coersion and torture I defer to Neva’s response.
“Now, explain to me how we do that on the battlefield?” I still have some dispute with the terms “war” and “battlefield” in this context. I still feel this is better handles by FBI, CIA and criminal justice channels.
“Imagine giving civilian lawyers and trials to everyone suspected of terrorism in Iraq” ??? Are you talking about terrorist acts in Iraq, or are you confusing the war in Iraq with the war on terror? Iraqi terrorists should be handled in Iraq by Iraqies when they are set up to do so. If they chose to try them all or offer amnesty (like we did with the south)it is their decision.
i wasnt suggesting that we just blow off these guys heads… but morally…? lets see what does Christ say about this… Those who live by the sword die by the sword… The actions of these terrorists are IMMORAL… so we excuse them and play nice? no thats not rightous. No… no faith in the TSA not because there horrible people, but because no one can prevent terrorists who are hell bent on destroying us….
Although I believe Brad lives in a total fantasy land (for lots of reasons that I’ll share below), I can’t go with you on this Abigail. We absolutely do not nor should we judge people legally based on Biblical law. We’re a secular government, even if we’re a religious people.
They are no more or less guilty of violating God’s laws than you or me or Brad or anybody else. God has grace for all of us in Christ, not just for those of us about as good as me. We absolutely know that if Jesus were here, He would encourage the one without sin to cast the first stone. He would encourage leaving the judgment of their souls to God, not us.
However, we are at war with them. And they are brutal killers. We can kill them on the battlefield and judge them as guilty if warranted if captured and tried in military courts. But this is not a Biblical issue.
And Brad… I think it’s incredibly irresponsible for you to call for “vague” definitions of torture. Isn’t that just asking for CIA agents to get thrown in jail or sued because someone’s definition of the vague terms of the Geneva Convention differed from theirs? It’s the job of our government to be more specific to prevent that.
Got lots more to say, but will have to get back to you. Work beckons.
Where is this battlefield you keep referring to? War has traditionally been declared against an entity (government, kingdom, race, etc.)
How can we declare war on individuals with a global battlefield. Would we be as willing to send a brigade to Canada or England instead of Afganistan? Remember we went into Afganistan to remove the Taliban – they were a defined entity.
I would like to see your definition and compare to mine.
“If any reasonable psychologist would believe that an action could cause PTSD, then that would be torture.”
“To me, if we cause someone irreparable physical harm (chop something off or beat someone bloody), then we’re torturing”
Just wanted to claify something real quick before heading off to class…
In response to Jeff’s reply to my last post:
Of course I’m not talking about the battle field here. Shooting someone because they’re shooting at you or have put other lives in immediate danger is completely different. I thought this whole discussion was about how you treat people once you have them in custody and no one is in immenent danger of being killed.
Also, I apologize for not providing a clear enough presentation of my actual view. I’m personally comfortable (as much as I can be, given the situation) with drawing the line at basically the golden rule. If we would be morally outraged at someone treating our captured soldiers this way, then we shouldn’t be doing it to someone else. That may not be the best legal definition, but I think it’s an appropriate moral one at least.
As to whether ability to cause PTSD is a good legal definition, I’ll leave that one to Chris or someone else who’s actually studied psych.
And I’m with Jeff on his last post. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. It’s not our place to judge and kill people based on Christian morality. That sort of judgement has to remain in the hands of an all-knowing God rather than falliable mortals like us.
K… I actually agree with you about God judging them and not us… But remember God told the israelites to kill all the people in the land that was meant to be theres, and they didnt so dont you think were just dealing with the consequences of them not doing what God asked? Im not saying that God told Bush to invade Iraq o anything like that. Btw America was a nation founded under christian principles by men who believed in God… w have since then fallen away from our ROOTS and have become secularized. Since God was literally kicked out of the nation, we have begun a spiral. So you cant exactly say that were secularized… just look at our money, in some ways we still acknowledge God.
> I would like to see your definition and compare to mine.
Brad: “If any reasonable psychologist would believe that an action could cause PTSD, then that would be torture.”
I said at one point “To me, if we cause someone irreparable physical harm (chop something off or beat someone bloody), then we’re torturing”
Yes, that pretty well sums it up. I think your definition is very reasonable, Brad. However, I’m more focused on causing someone physical harm than on causing them psychological harm. The psych side is just too fuzzy. It’s why I’m not willing to let things sit with just Geneva Common Article 3. “Outrages upon personal dignity”, “humiliating treatment”, “cruel treatment”, etc are just too vague. There are people in my life who would accuse me of these things, by their definitions. Certainly *every* teenager would say these things about their parents at some point. Does that make me a torturer? Surely not. There’s just too much perspective and personal bias available.
All that being said, if push came to shove, I would vote for your definition as perfectly reasonable (far more level headed than a lot of things I’m hearing out there). I would simply draw the line in a different place. But I think that’s fine.
I think you have to be very careful with those lines of thinking. There is definitely some truth to what you’re saying, but I think you’re taking it too far.
First of all, there is no comparison between America and Israel. The Bible affords the Jewish people special status (“God’s people”) that never have been and never will be afforded to any other nation (like “America”). For this and many other reasons, I don’t really see any comparison between what God told Israel to do in the Old Testament and what America’s doing now in the Middle East. We are not carrying out some divine order, we are trying to protect ourselves, free a people and in so doing cause freedom to spread to even other people, which completes the cycle by further keeping us safe. So, national security and the pursuit of freedom for all, plus a whole bunch of more minor self-motivations (like oil, etc). But I believe our intentions are predominantly noble. I also believe they are not driven by religious zeal.
However, our beliefs that all people should be free do in fact come from the principles of Christian philosophy. The concept of freedom is much different under other philosophies than that follow from Judeo-Christian thought. So, it’s President Bush’s (and the American people’s) being steeped in that philosophy that drives our decision making. That’s the way religion is playing into the war in Iraq.
Is God punishing us for getting away from our roots? Also a complicated question. I may right on that at some point soon.