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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Does torture work?

It is a Bush-era debate that has found Obama-era relevance because of a new movie, Zero Dark Thirty, in which torture seems to work quite well.

The film, an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, is being sold as a fact-based accounting of the 10-year manhunt that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. In it, torture — the waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, hitting and humiliation the U.S. government once antiseptically dubbed “enhanced interrogation” — is depicted as integral to the information gathering that allowed the CIA to find him.

That depiction has alarmed some observers. Acting CIA Director Michael Morell recently issued a statement to agency employees in which he says the film gives the impression these brutal methods “were the key to finding bin Laden. That impression is false.”

Actors Martin Sheen and Ed Asner are so upset at that impression that they have reportedly asked members of the motion picture academy not to support the film in Academy Awards voting.

But torture still has its defenders. Bush-era Attorney General Michael Mukasey penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011 defending the harsh techniques because, he said, they produced results. In a recent column, George F. Will went so far as to quote Jack Nicholson’s famous “You can’t handle the truth!” speech from A Few Good Men about the moral choices the nation’s defenders are required to make. Will, who dubbed torture “hard but morally defensible,” failed to mention that Nicholson’s character ends up arrested and disgraced.

Does torture work?

Beg pardon, but we have been asking the wrong question. What matters is not whether torture works. What matters is whether torture is right.

Consider: Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that drunk drivers kill almost 10,000 people a year. That’s three Sept. 11s and then some. But if you wanted to stop that carnage, it would be simple. Just make drunk driving a capital crime with instant punishment. The evidence — blood alcohol levels — allows for scientific certainty of guilt, so there’d be no need of a long trial. We could execute the miscreants within a day.

Drunk driving would disappear. The new policy would solve the problem. It would work.

And if that were truly the ultimate rubric by which we decided a question, there could be no argument against it. But we won’t make drunk driving a capital crime for one simple reason.

It would be wrong. In fact, it would be repellent to our values, inconsonant with the kind of people we consider ourselves to be.

That is the same reason torture unsettles the American conscience and why addressing that unease by debating its efficacy misses the point. We are a nation where human rights are enshrined in law, a nation that proudly, routinely lectures other nations on the need to close their gulags, free their dissidents and treat human beings as human beings.

We cannot be that nation and yet also this other nation that tortures and then defends torture because it works. Indeed, if that were the only important metric, what other things might we do, condone or defend?

But it isn’t the only important metric.

In America, even drunk drivers, even child rapists and murderers, have rights and, though those rights are sometimes inconvenient, even incompatible with justice, we honor them anyway because we realize the nation’s moral authority derives precisely from the willingness of the state to curb its own power — even when it has reason to do otherwise, even when doing otherwise might “work.”

This is an obeisance power makes to human freedom. On the day it no longer does, it is not just terrorists who will be in trouble.

Power that is not constrained by humanity is not constrained by anything at all.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected])

AP Photo/Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Jonathan Olley, File

9 Responses to Does Torture Work?

  1. Great article!!!

    Regarding Mukasey, IMO he should have been sacked on the spot. Any person of legal authority, who supports torture- which is one of the most heinous human rights violations that there is- should IMO be condemned with all the might of civilized society, and that would mean sacking them.

    If he thinks that torture works, then he has lost his mind. Not to mention that an attorney general supporting torture (similarly to a leading science officer supporting creationism) is an abomination. He should have been sacked, without pension, and perhaps been forced to speak to victims of torture. Regardless, he’s yet another ‘lawyer’ who has no grasp of reality, or morality.

    As for Will, considering some of his other statements, I had expected better from him. I will say, that if he truly believes this, then his sense of morality is perverted at best. Torture can not be morally defended in any circumstances.

  2. Well written and true enough. However, the fact remains that torture is a highly unreliable way of getting information, the more intelligent the subject, the more unreliable. Because the subject will sooner or later want to appear to cooperate in order to stop the torturing. The only question is, how well can the subject lie without being caught doing so? How well can the subject feign unconsciousness? How well can the subject figure out how to die? Torture is next to useless, for either the subject is good at managing his situation, or is too stupid to be entrusted with valuable information.

  3. We don’t torture, we do invade and kill in Cold Blood with DRONES. We also sub contract our torture out to 3rd world countries.

    The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

  4. Yes, it works to DESTROY your credibility as a CIVILIZED society.

    Any more OBSCENE questions for me to answer??

    Frankly, I sometimes wonder what country this is, anymore!!

  5. Torture for information is dumb. Either the person does not have information but will tell you anything to stop the pain or they will lie if smart enough to do so convincingly. Everyone has a breaking point, it is just the some have a much higher tolerance than others. Anyone who swears they would never break is playing macho games and is flat out dumb. Me, I’d just tell them flat out before they start, I don’t like pain so here is what I know, if you insist on torturing me anyway anything I say when you start is going to be what I think you want to hear because I don’t know anything more. Then the moment they start the torture I would blab whatever nonsense comes into my head. Figure out for yourself where the truth is.

    • I think most torturers are psychopaths who enjoy inflicting pain so keep up the semblance of trying to get information out of people so they can continue to get their jollies.

  6. Torture DOES NOT WORK! Hate to tell you George W lovers, but the US Army, back in the fifties and sixties, conducted its own tests, especially of techniques employed by the USSR during the Cold War. They found, categorically, that physical torture does not produce actionable information. Pretty much all it does is turn the subject into a babbling idiot who will say and confess to anything his captors want. Interrogation techniques used by many police departments today, which subject an individual to continued pressure over an extended period, have produced so many false convictions that they are being required to change their techniques, including the filming of such interrogations so the jury can decide if the interrogation was coercive, which would make any confession invalid. All that reasonably needs be done by any intelligent individual is to put himself in the position of the person being subjected to torture, and one would easily realize anyone would confess to anything to stop the torture.

  7. But, as the article posits, is torture RIGHT? If information could be obtained through torture, that would save lives, should torture be employed? Well, as most reliable sources tell us, information obtained through torture is, at best, unreliable, making it, in and of itself, not actionable. Therefore, why use it in the first place, especially since it is prohibited by our laws, by our Military Code of Conduct, and by the Geneva Conventions, to which we are signatories. W and his attorneys-general wanted to parse the definition of “torture”, thereby indicating their willingness to challenge that slippery slope. As a further inndication of their willingness to test the boundaries of the law, they deigned to label those subjected to the “enhanced interrogation” as anything but those categories that would be protected by our laws, by the Geneva Convention, or by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, even going so far as to establish military tribunals beyond US borders so as to avoid any possibility of prosecution. These sins were further compounded by W’s refusal to be a signatory to the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court.
    Torture is NOT RIGHT, because all the documents we believe in and adhere to that mark this nation as one of justice for all prohibit us from stooping to such levels of depravity. Our Holy Bible and the Koran prohibit such activities. Any person who considers himself a moral being deeply understands torture is not right. We have even modified the manners in which we execute criminals so as to avoid even the hint of torture, although that question in itself is another issue. Any child who is caught torturing an animal is severely dealt with, criminals who torture their victims are looked upon as anything but normal, even meriting their own label in the Dictionary of Psychology andPsychiatry. Everything in the very fiber of the soul of our nation tells us that torture is WRONG.

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