Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Deluge of Torture

It has been a positive deluge of news about torture lately. In case you've been living under a rock, I have collected some salient points for you to consider.

Firstly, the United States government has tortured people. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross it was systematic and widespread.

The use of torture was supposedly justified by legal opinions issued by the Justice Department in 2003.

But the legal opinions were both wrong, and too late. Because according to the Senate Armed Services Committee torture was being planned and implemented in early 2002.

Which means that the memos weren't a carefully considered response to an early inquiry from eager intelligence officials, but an attempt to silence dissent from within the CIA when interrogators questioned the legality (and morality) of torture.

Torture had always been the plan. In fact, the Bush administration, starting from the very top, was preparing to use torture from just a few months after 9/11/2001, and were urging its implementation to attempt to find an Iraq-Al Qaeda link.

Of course the link never materialized and the early CIA uses of torture bled into the military and were widely practiced in Iraq and Afghanistan which means that Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Bush lied and the Abu Ghraib incident was not just a few bad apples.

Can there be any doubt that prosecutions must follow? Let's hope the senate wises up and follows Patrick Leahy's plan.


Jodie said...

It especially amazes me that Dick Chaney is putting forth the possibility that torturing these terrorist prevented more terror, as a justification for his actions.

And the LA times of 4/22 has an interview with one of the law professors who wrote those briefs who also justifies his actions on the basis of heretofore unsung benefits.

My wife and I were discussing this topic this morning as we listened to the latest revelations. Have we really lost our moral compass as a nation? Or must every generation struggle to draw the distinction between "might makes right" and "right makes might?"

The loss of our moral compass during the Viet Nam War was captured by Gen Westmorland's infamous justification for having his men torch a village when he said "We had to burn the village in order to save it"

No doubt quoting John Calvin's excuse for burning his old buddy at the stake, or the Roman Catholic's medieval excuse for the tortures of the Inquisition.

Perhaps every generation needs to take its stand. Mine is this:

The ends do not justify the means. Rather it is the means that sanctify (or corrupt) the ends.

Prosecutions must follow.

Doug Hagler said...

I would say that the distinction between "means" and "ends" is a delusion. Our means and our ends are inseperable.

Daniel said...

Aric, this is an excellent summary. May I re-post it on my blog (with attribution, of course)?

Aric Clark said...


Of course you may re-post it. I always appreciate credit, but I generally assume if I've put it up on the internet I've given up control over how and where it gets used. :P

Jodie & Doug

Indeed we cannot "justify the means with the ends". I think Cheney and friends are blowing smoke in a desperate bid to keep themselves out of court and jail. Frankly torture has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective, even counterproductive. I don't think Cheney has the evidence he says he does.

BUT... even if something came out suggesting that torture directly saved American lives, the moral and legal argument against torture is too strong to make any exceptions regardless of consequences.

Daniel said...

Thanks, Aric. Done. (Had it saved as a draft and was waiting for your OK.)

Found your blog via Experimental Theology, and I'm now subscribing. I'm looking through your "Not a sin" series. I'm coming into my own voice about this, and your words are helping me "own it" a bit more. Thanks.

Paul Wise said...

What's likely is that Cheney will claim that the interrogations of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed produced actionable intelligence. And he's right. They did. The thing is, that was BEFORE they started torturing him. It was, in fact, several months before any of the torture programs began at all, back when KSM was being interrogated in cooperation with the FBI.

Once they started the torture, the FBI pulled out, refusing to have anything else to do with it, and then they proceeded to waterboard the guy 183 times.


I wonder what they didn't get the first time that they needed 182 additional torture sessions to get out of a guy who had been cooperative before they started torturing him? A false confession, perhaps?

Steve Schuler said...

The Good:
This torture business is evidently being considered seriously by the Obama administration.

The Bad:
The sad fact that the United States government has employed torture.

The Ugly:
While reading through comments left by readers at a McClatchy article on this matter I was amazed at the number of comments that supported the use of torture.

Doug Hagler said...

Here's the thing - I don't think we torture because it is effective. I think we need the myth that torture is effective. We *want* to believe that the real path to truth is to hurt someone else, that you only *truly* know someone when you waterboard them, or strip them naked, or slap them around.

We need to believe in violence, because the terrifying, world-overturning alternative is to believe in Christ.

Jodie said...

Actually, torture is effective as a deterrent. If I know that my actions will land me in jail, and that jail means torture, I'm going to be much more cautious.

It is also effective as a weapon of terror. If a person witnesses the torture of someone and know they are next in line, the fear they feel is the most intense fear known to man.

Something I learned in a land where torture is a core competence.

The issue here is HOPE. We need to live in the hope that one day such things will pass away. We need to hold ourselves to such standards. If we give up on such standards we give up hope.

And if we give up hope we die.

Aric Clark said...


I think you've just accepted the popular cultural myth that torture/jail etc... functions as any kind of deterrent. Most studies of criminal activity suggest that capital punishment is not a deterrent (or a very minimal one) so why would torture be a deterrent? I'm certain there have been no broad scientifically reliable surveys done on whether widespread torture serves as a deterrent to crime. In fact, judging by the comparative crime rates between countries that employ cruel and inhumane treatment and those that don't it seems like it might even have a positive correlation.

Ultimately, I agree that efficacy is beside the point. Even if torture WERE effective it would still be illegal and wrong. But if you're going to claim it is effective at anything, then back it up.

Jodie said...


Fair enough. Violence breeds violence, torture breeds torture and terror breeds terror.

I don't know if I can back up the deterrence thought. I know it deters >>me<<. But I also know that if I get pushed too far, I loose care for my own safety.

I can't answer you point about the positive correlation in countries that employ cruel and inhuman treatment. I've seen that up close.

Maybe what really happens is a polarization of the fight or flight syndrome. When you run you run harder, but when you fight you fight meaner.

My point was to the issue of hope.

Along with that escalation of terror there is a loss of hope, and that is to me the greatest crime.

Americans cannot comprehend the role America really plays in the psyche of the citizens of the globe. It's mythical.

Obama hit that nerve with his book "The audacity of hope". It made him an international hero even before he was fully socialized to the American public. The world wants America to be their hope. They need it. And when Americans threaten and fail to live up to the ideals of humanity, they invoke a much stronger reaction than one would expect from the sin itself.

For us as Americans to get down into the gutter of torture threatens much more than just the livelihood of a few common thugs or the souls of those who give themselves over to it. It threatens the dreams and hopes of the entire globe for a better future. And that can have much bigger consequences that one would initially predict.