Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is a Torture Commission Needed?

In an earlier post on torture I pointed out that "torture is personal." That is, there are the tortured and the torturers and they are human beings; victims and victimizers. Who would we have be the latter? Did we torture? Yes. Should we have? That's the question a commission would address.

The former Vice President, Dick Cheney is not apologetic. He seems to be saying, "Yes, we did it, and it worked."

Military psychologists involved with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program advised the military on what “enhanced interrogation techniques” worked best and although they are mostly reviled by their professional peers, one SERE colleague calls them “patriots,” a la Jack Bauer. The ends justify the means, and legality, let alone morality, be damned.

Apologists for torture are fond of presenting to their critics a consequentialist dilemma, often made more persuasive by the “ticking time bomb scenario” so popular on Fox TV’s “24.” In other words, for those who claim that torture is morally wrong, absolutely, proponents paint a scenario in which the torture of a single person results in (has the consequence of) saving a hundred, a thousand, a million lives -- or perhaps, more compelling, the life of one single person -- your child. Wouldn't you condone torture under those circumstances? Yes? Who would you have perform the deed?

Putting aside law and morality and decency (and we did) for the moment, let’s consider another aspect of torture, its efficacy – is torture the most effective way to obtain intelligence? Considering the question in its broader context, the answer is a resounding, “NO.”

When we resorted to covert brutality and then were revealed in photographs taken by our own soldiers as the worst kind of thugs and hypocrites, we not only stained forever the moral fabric of our great nation, we hardened Islamic extremists against us and irreparably degraded the probability that more moderate Muslims might cooperate with us.

Ironically, intelligence experts tell us that what they call “less-kinetic interrogation and indoctrination techniques” (Malcolm W. Nance, November 9, 2007) work as well or better, and aren’t as likely to “backfire” (Ali Soufan, April 22, 2009).

In the final analysis, whether torture works or doesn’t work isn’t the real issue. The overarching issue is the dehumanizing brutality of torture and the depravity that is almost always associated with torture -- legal or not – and the question of who we, as Americans, are.

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