The Necessity of Torture

So Obama has decided to keep rendition and the torture it implies as part of U.S. covert operations. Surprise, Surprise. Turns out that instead of being a sign of pure personal evil, at least threatening to torture spies and illegal combatants is a necessary tool for even the most “enlightened” individuals. 

Of course, anyone who spent any time actually studying the matter instead of trying to score rhetorical points out of selfish political motives knew that something like this is needed and as always has been. 

I was watching a program on the history channel about army interrogators in WWII. They were responsible for interrogating uniformed German soldiers, i.e., legal combatants completely covered by the Geneva convention. On the show they talked about their most successful technique. Many of these men were Jews who had escaped Germany and Eastern Europe in the ’30s and who spoke many languages in genuine accents. They dressed their Russian-speaking members up in Soviet uniforms and then told the German captives that they would be turned over to the Russians unless they talked. The Germans, knowing full well that death by torture awaited them at the hands of the Russians, talked. 

Now, the American interrogators were bluffing. If a German didn’t talk they just transferred him so he couldn’t give the game away. They never actually hurt anyone. They did, however, use the credible threat of torture to get the Germans to talk. Without the very real horror of Stalin’s Soviet Union hanging over their heads, the Germans had no reason to speak. The information that the Americans extracted from the German soldiers saved a lot of Allied lives, but they would have never gotten that information without Stalin’s sinister shadow looming in the background. 

Secret “Black” prisons and rendition have been used continuously by the U.S. and other Western nations since the late 1930s because they’ve been needed. Determined people won’t talk unless physically threatened, and we needed at least the threat of torture to hold over their heads. For most of the last 70 years we only needed to hold at most a few dozen people at a time. When terror went large-scale in the late ’90s the rendition system would no longer suffice. Suddenly, we had to deal with not dozens but hundreds of people at a time. The rendition system could not process that many people. We had to bring the secret interrogations out into the light. Hence Gitmo.

Suddenly, people claimed to be shocked that we did such things. Some people did this out of real ignorance but most politicians and associated hangers-on did so out of pure self-interest. Bush at least had the integrity to step up to the plate and admit what he thought needed to be done. Obama and his supporters mocked and jeered from the sidelines while Bush et al did the dirty work.

Now its time for them to get their hands dirty. 

7 thoughts on “The Necessity of Torture”

  1. Td,

    Not sure what your point is. The executive order does not apply to those “rendered” i.e. handed over to the authority of other nations under a handshake agreement that the other countries will get the information we want using any means they deem necessary. Before the President was a leftist, leftist took it as assumed that rendition equaled torture. Now we see that Obama will still use torture, or at least the credible threat of torture, to get the information he wants.

    My point stands. You cannot conduct interrogations, especially those of covert actors, without at least the threat that you are willing to get rough. Even civil criminal interrogation rely on the threat of increase prison time and the physical danger and risk of rape that implies, to get criminals to confess. It has always been so and always will be.

    Whether we do it ourselves or outsource it, people will get hurt for our benefit.

  2. Shannon,

    I think your understanding could benefit from a closer reading of the link. Before our President was lawful rendition was in fact the means to deliver people to torture and while a rash of Cheney apologists have tried to blur the line of late the distinction between the two administrations is vast in this regard.

    However you do raise an interesting point that I don’t see addressed elsewhere. If you feel that torture is necessary to what extent would you be willing to go to make it explicitly legal and above board in policy terms? Lets codify the manner in which you’d like to see people hurt for our benefit.

  3. Td,

    Before our President was lawful rendition was in fact the means to deliver people to torture and while a rash of Cheney apologists have tried to blur the line of late the distinction between the two administrations is vast in this regard.

    If I understand what you intended to write, you are wrong. Obama’s ruling provides no protection for those delivered to foreign hands. Neither does he provide any kind of judicial oversight for the practice. All the arguments made against rendition during the Clinton and Bush presidencies still apply. If Obama wants someone to disappear and to get them to talk by any means necessary he has left himself and out for doing so.

    Lets codify the manner in which you’d like to see people hurt for our benefit.

    I would advocate creating a shadow system in which use the same system of checks and balances as the rest of the government but would operate covertly. Representatives form the executive, legislative and judicial branches would determine covert operations and if people needed to be made to talk.

    People fighting on our behalf have always used harsh methods against those who violate the internationally recognized laws of war. It is a self-serving mythology to claim otherwise.

  4. “If I understand what you intended to write, you are wrong”

    Again, I’d invite you to read the ruling more closely, digest Panetta’s testimony today, and ponder the matter further.

    “I would advocate creating a shadow system….”

    I find this dishonest and woefully short of specifics. I think your position is potentially legitimate but Im confused by the vacillation. Why must the system be a “shadow system? If torture is in fact necessary then why can it not exist in the full light of day and be codified under law as a matter of open policy. As you present yourself as a torture advocate I think its fair then to ask you to enumerate, with some specificity, exactly what kinds actions you’re willing to have taken on our mutual behalf.

  5. Td,

    Why must the system be a “shadow system?

    Because we are dealing with covert operations. This is a military matter, not a civil criminal matter. We don’t want the enemy to know what we know, how we know it or when we know. I realize that people like yourself often believe that in fact we have no enemies and need no military secrets but grownup know better. Before the advent of mass causality terrorism, covert operations were directed against a literal handful of spies whose primary goal was the collection of information. Now we face military organization numbering in the thousands whose goal is the killing of as many civilians as possible. Different problems, different rules.

    As you present yourself as a torture advocate I think its fair then to ask you to enumerate, with some specificity, exactly what kinds actions you’re willing to have taken on our mutual behalf.

    My rule of thumb would be this: What would I be willing to undergo at the hands of someone sincerely trying to save lives but who had mistaken me for an enemy. In other words, I can’t talk because I don’t actually know anything.

    I think the Bush administration’s limit of anything that does not cause physical damage is the correct one. With the Bush standard, you come out with nothing but disturbing memories not actual permanent injuries. I’ve been “waterboarded” by pulmonary hypo/hyper tension which caused me to smother as if drowning for several hours. It’s pretty damn horrible but, hey, I survived. It would be equally horrible for that to happen to an innocent person but on the other hand its pretty horrible when Al-Quada rapes women and men to convince them to carry out suicide bombings that kill dozens of people at a time.

    If it took me getting water boarded as part of a process to stop such an attack I would be willing to risk it. I think every other adult should to.

    The real problem we face here is that as our enemies adopt increasingly dark and amoral methods we are forced to follow in kind, We have done so all the 20th Century, unrestricted submarine warfare, area bombing of cities, Mutually assured Destruction, and many other practices are examples of tactics we found moral abhorrent when our enemies used them but which we were eventually compelled to use ourselves. Likewise, we now face an enemy who violates every law of civilized warfare and who seeks every opportunity to endanger the lives of civilians on both sides. As they hide among the innocent we in turn are forced to hurt the innocent to fight them.

    If we don’t bite the bullet and do what is necessary today to stop them today we will be forced to do even more horrible things tomorrow. History is very clear on this point. You don’t win by being nice and clinging to a military morality of previous generations. You win by fighting the enemy on the terms they lay down.

  6. I appreciate the increased detail Shannon but I think your choices are largely false ones.

    Let me rephrase my first question as you have yet to address it and continually overstate opposition. If you can point to any statement I’ve made indicating that I don’t believe we have enemies please do, otherwise lets refrain from that kind of silliness. Agreed?

    I ask you why you believe any program of torture must be covert because there is a clear contradiction in your position. You are clearly eager to torture people and eager to argue that is is entirely necessary but seemingly less eager to make it a matter of stated law. So, if its good and necessary policy why wouldn’t you advocate it being openly stated? Something along the lines of Israel’s ticking bomb policy?

    While Im sorry you’ve dealt with hypertension frankly Im lost in that ramble.

    Ultimately the difference is small but rather profound. Do you believe in the rule of law or do you not?

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