a Someone should care, maybe not you....: Torture 101 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Someone should care, maybe not you....

My thoughts on many things including the army, war, politics, the military corrections system, chaos, life, books, movies, and why there is no blue food. Feel free to comment on what I say. Feedback is nice.

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40+ year old former teacher, linguist, interrogator, soldier, and lastly convict. We all do stupid things every once and awhile. I am an economic conservative and a firm believer in civil rights. Starting a new life now and frankly not sure what I am going to be doing.

02 December 2005

Torture 101

Torture 101.

I was recently asked to go to a politically left leaning blog type thing and join a discussion on torture.  The reason for this is that I have repeatedly stated my opposition to the use of torture by interrogators and the lady who invited me wanted me to weigh in against those who were proposing the “ticking bomb” rational for using it.  I went to the blog and read the initial post and some of the comments.  I decided not to post there for a few reasons.  One reason being that I have no credibility there.  The conservatives would view me as a liberal poser and the libs would see me as one of them in hiding.  Also, there were already almost 200 comments and I felt it was too late to join the discussion and do any good.  I did bookmark the site and will go back and probably join the discussions.  I may become one of the rightwing “trolls” that were causing the problems.  We shall see.

That being said I have decided to address the issue of torture and why I am opposed to it in practical terms as an interrogator.

First, I was an army interrogator.  I never did anything that I would consider to be torture.  I have though, studied the history of the art of interrogation.  (And it is an Art, some people can do it, some can’t)  In that study I included the history of torture.  I have learned things that can curdle the brain.  More than once I have stopped a conversation cold and left other interrogators staring at me.  Quoth one of them, “You know WAY too much about this stuff.”  (Bonus points for anyone who can tell me why you want to hang the person upside down if you are going to skin them alive.)  Historically the torturer was a skilled job position.  It took training and experience and good ones were sought after.  Why you ask?  Well, anyone can torture.  But it takes skill to do so and keep the subject alive long enough to get the information you want from them.
What is torture?  This is not a facetious question but a very important one.   Surprisingly enough, it is not a question with an easy answer.  It is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as the infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.  In practical terms every country on earth defines what is and is not torture differently.  I know that what was considered legal for British interrogators to do would have gotten me arrested.  I personally do not consider most of what went on at Abu Ghraib torture.  Stripping people may be humiliating but it isn’t torture in my book.  I have personally seen the results of real torture.  That wasn’t it.  I am not going to go into torture techniques.  The information on that is available for anyone that really wants to find it.

Torture is morally, ethically, and (in the US and the civilized world) legally wrong.  There are no ifs ands or buts about it.  It is banned by international law, by treaties which the Presidents of the US have signed and the Senate has ratified, the Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual” punishment and torture surely falls under that category.  So it would seem to be a moot point.  The debate is already answered.  But humans being what we are we continually try to finagle our way around rules that inconvenience us.  People keep thinking “Well, in this case surely it is ok.”  

So why do I oppose the use of torture?  Well, first of all, it isn’t a very reliable way to get accurate information.  I know this flies in the face of every Rambo film and every episode of 24 but the sad fact is, torture just doesn’t work as a RELIABLE method.  Why not you ask?  Because, torture is designed to coerce the subject into talking.  And, often, the subject will.  In fact if you apply sufficient pain the subject will tell you whatever you want to hear.  That is the problem.  They will tell you what you want to hear, not necessarily the truth.  A professional interrogator is not looking to prove a point; he is looking for the truth.

Those who choose to pull out the great “ticking bomb” excuse have a few good points.  There may come a time when circumstances will require you to do things that you would not otherwise do to save a great many lives.  The problem with this of course is finding the right person to torture to find the bomb.  You get info that a bomb plot is on, and you start rounding up suspects.  How do you know who is important, who knows about the bomb.  If you follow the “ticking bomb makes torture ok” theory, then you begin torturing everyone.   And people begin talking, some of them maybe telling the truth, some of them telling you what you want to hear.  And who is going to be talking?  The highly trained and motivated Al Qaeda terrorist cell leader or the low level flunky who knows nothing but will tell you anything?  Here is a secret; Intel is very time sensitive, especially ticking bombs.  The motivated, trained, skilled, cell leader knows exactly when the bomb is going to go off, thus he knows exactly how long he has to resist before it becomes irrelevant.  This makes resistance a lot easier.  He knows when the pain is going to end.  The guys who know nothing are scared, confused, suffering, and have no idea what is going on.  Combine that with no resistance training and they will confess to ANYTHING as soon as it becomes clear that their protestations of ignorance aren’t going to be accepted.  Thus false information begins to cloud the picture fast.  So while the ticking bomb scenario is the best rationale for torture, it is also one of the least productive times.  If you don’t get lucky with the right guy and the right situation, it just becomes pointless.
I could give some situations where torture may be effective but I’m not going to.  At least not now. These situations would be rare and even then I don’t think torture would be the best option.

The other reason of course that torture should be avoided is because we are supposed to be the civilized ones in this war.  The US has always had the higher standards.  Now is not the time to lower them.  Just because the enemy creeps in the slime and does inhuman things, does not mean we should.


Blogger Edge said...

On skinning alive and torture and upside down. Less blood loss thus keeping them alive longer to get more information.


1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see what sort of sidebar ads get linked to this entry.

3:23 PM  
Blogger curious servant said...

Good post.

I had a friend who was an interogator in Vietnam.

Though he said he never participated, he observed it several times.

6:34 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Thanks again for the education. I had no idea about torture. I thought you just hit them or cause them pain until they said what you wanted to get out of them.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Davo said...

"torture" is never productive. Am a player with words, and damn sure that i will say whatevever it takes to get me out of induced physical pain.
The 'truth' becomes apparent later.

2:37 AM  
Blogger exMI said...

Very close Jef. There is actually the same blood loss but being upside down keeps the blood preasure up in the subject's head despite blood loss thus keeping him concious and aware.
ZS- that is how amatuers do it.Or worse, they imitate Rambo/Lethal Weapon movies.

5:17 AM  
Blogger gunngirl said...

Arrgh! ExMI I didn't come here fast enough, I was going to answer that torture bonus question and I would have been right. *grumble*

Anyway, very enlightening and interesting post. Morbidly, I've always been fascinated with tortue. I watched this documentary on the History Channel on The History of Torture. 2 hours and I was glued to the screen.

They went way back, even before Ancient Rome up until the 21st century. A lot of the techniques kept me up that night.

I agree with you that torture is not only wrong, but is not very useful. Though, if you threaten bodily harm and the person still doesn't comply, isn't it your job to inflict pain to let them know you mean it?

Then again, in the witch trials, those torture techniques were very brainless. When you grab someones bare flesh with hot pinchers someone is eventually going to 'confess.'

I would say the threat would do more good. I don't know about anyone else, but that'd get me talking.

(sorry for the long post)

9:03 PM  
Blogger exMI said...

Very good Gunngirl, Actually the threat of torture is very effective. Unfortunetly, to keep the threat valid you have to apply the torture if the subject fails to cooperate. thsu you are back where you began.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Riding down the highway today, (12/6) listening to Rush Limbaugh when he got into Condi Rice's comments about transporting for torture and then into the McCain amendment when someone called in, and if they weren't reading word for word from this post, they were close. Come on whoever you are, if you cite the blog, give EXMI credit (or fess up in the comment page.)

10:55 AM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Thanks for the insight. Torture is a nearly worthless way to gain intelligence, but an effective way to instill fear. The problem there is that it also instills anger and takes away the moral high ground.

What happened in Abu Ghraib, for example, wasn't just a disgrace but the direct cause of many American deaths in Iraq since.

Torture is uncovered, Iraqis hear of it, some join the insurgency and many more stop putting themselves in danger to help Americans. Why would someone risk their family's safety to stop a convoy to let them know they saw an rebel set an explosive around the bend if they believe those in the convoy to be no better than any other abusive rulers they've seen?

Thanks for provoking some thought...

1:42 PM  
Blogger Stephalupogus said...

Just to confirm 1 of the comments made here, but when exmi recites his facts about torture & ways to hide bodies & other such morbid trivia, it is REALLY disgusting. And when the conversation is being held late at night, with a bonfire roaring, & there are a lot of sharp, edged weapons in sight, well, I am glad I fall under the cute category because no one ever suggested that I would make a good stew.
At least, not in my hearing.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Babs said...

ExMi, there's some interesting psychology literature on the role of torture in a process of 'desocialisation'. The idea behind it - and I believe often it reflects a subconsciously sought strategy - is that torture alienates the victim from all the believes and values attached to his existence in society, eg difference between human and animal, inside and outside, clean and dirty (I let you visualise what that amounts to in concrete terms).

In that perspective, getting someone to talk and betray can be only one more step towards cutting the individual from the social group he belongs to (family, clan, party and so on).

This would explain how, for instance, some pacifist islamists in Algeria or Egypt joined active extremist groups after being arrested and tortured, not only due to vindicative feelings, but also because their de-affiliation from their usual social circles made it easier for the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance, to turn to them and re-affiliate them. Anyway, this is a subject you may find interesting to dig, just to see a new side of the subject.

As for the moral reason why I'll never be able to condone torture, the poet Omar Khayyam put it in words that exactly translate my thought:
'If with evil you punish the evil I have done;
Prey tell, what is the difference between you and me?'

1:29 AM  
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1:05 AM  

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