Saturday, May 30, 2009

"The purpose of torture, is torture" ~ George Orwell, 1984

Dick Cheney and his spawn are currently doing the rounds of the usual right-wing talkshows to claim both that waterboarding isn't torture and that it worked. Since Dick Cheney almost radiates pure evil and kills plants by his mere proximity (even his friends call him Vader), it's doubtful anyone takes him that seriously but his spawn at least appear human so perhaps someone will listen to them. I won't but perhaps someone will. Naturally, Cheney is proclaiming, roughly, "Oh, if you knew what I know". This normally only works on small children.

It's easy to see why the Cheney clan is doing this. Dick Cheney has staked his reputation on this issue and, by the accounts of pretty much everyone, he's a paranoid, megalomanical man but his arguements are weak at best. To argue that waterboarding isn't torture flies in the face of five hundreds years of history. When the Spanish Inquisition invented waterboarding, they called it the rather more accurate name of "the Drowning Torture". Understand this, waterboarding isn't simulated drowning, waterboarding IS drowning. The victim is positioned and their respiration restricted to ensure they have no choice but to breathe in water. So you're drowning. Nor is the danger merely physical. While you (probably) won't die, the physical effects last for months, the mental effects for even longer. Major trauma of this kind breaks the mind of the victim. That's why Americans executed Japanese for using waterboarding after World War II (contrary to Liz Cheney's lies, people were executed purely for that crime). The Nazis didn't use waterboarding as far as we know (it's unclear why given the other tortures they enacted). But virtually everyone who has actually been waterboarded say that it's torture. Eric "Mancow" Muller and Christopher Hitchens (both normally right-wingers), Jesse Ventura (a libertarian who doesn't much like either party); they all say it's torture.

So waterboarding is torture. Unequivocally so. And it has been considered torture for centuries. But waterboarding isn't even the worst crime that was committed. Among some of the others were "walling" (swinging a suspended prisoner into a wall); rape and sexual tortures, electrotorture and old-fashioned beatdowns. I've seen a few of the photos that have leaked out. I read criminology for intellectual interest and I've seen more crime scenes photos than I care to remember. Even for me, the photos are difficult to look at. Perhaps that's because in photos of crime scenes, the victims are usually dead. Whatever it is that made that person a person rather than an ambulatory bag of protoplasm and trace elements, that's gone to wherever spirits go to. All that's left is a cooling hunk of meat. But the photos that have leaked out show living victims, pleading, hurting and broken. Even for me, they're difficult to see.

And so, we come to the claim that torture worked. First off, worked how, exactly? What is it that was being attempted here? If we assume the much-ballyhooed "ticking time-bomb" scenario, then the whole thing falls apart. It took months to get permission to use torture on these prisoners. Of course, since ticking time-bomb scenarios simply don't happen in real life, it's doubtfull we even need to bother with that blind alley. The claim that torture yielded useful information is likewise ridiculous. We now have on record numerous statements from those involved in interrogating these prisoners. They all say that useful information was obtained before torture was employed and dried up when torture started. And that's not surprising because we have lots and lots of studies that say torture does not produce reliable information.

More to the point, the question is not "does torture work?", the question is "is torture legal?". And the answer, bluntly, is no. The Geneva Conventions ban torture. Ah, say the right, but the terrorists didn't sign the Conventions. No, they didn't but the Conventions are what is called a "unilateral compact". That means they are binding on all signatories, regardless of who we're fighting. We could be fighting Martians and we'd still be bound by the Conventions. Then comes the claim that the terrorists aren't covered by the Conventions. Sorry but this one falls apart as well. Put simply, anyone held in custody is either a criminal (and entitled to all the rights and protections thereof), a civilian (who should be relased) or a PoW. There is no middle ground here. If you take them off a battlefield, they're a PoW. Then there is the claim that the extraordinary circumstances make torture allowable. Sorry, wrong again. The Conventions and the UN Declaration on Torture (which the US is a signatory to) both specifically knock down that arguement. Both say that no extraordinary circumstances may be used as justification for torture. The US law against torture, championed by the patron god of right-wingers, St. Ronnie of Reagan, said much the same thing.

So, waterboarding is torture and torture is illegal in all circumstances. Still, perhaps there could be some situation (perhaps the Martian war mentioned above) where you have no other choice. If that is the case, the right thing to do, the honourable thing to do, is to do what you must and then resign and submit yourself to the rule of law. Stand by your principles, stand up and say "I did it because I had to but it was entirely wrong, it must never be done again and I will take the consequences of my actions". If you believe your actions were justified, stand before the court and justify them.

But Cheney doesn't work that way. He, either personally or through others, created the systemic practice of torture and now, he is relying on the new media's tendancy toward "Oooh, shiny!" attention spans to escape the consequences. And the news media is going along with him. Because it's easy and cheap. It's easier and cheaper to describe the torture dispute as a partisan fight (hence the obsession with what Pelosi knew and when) than it is to do actual research.

I disagree with Jesse Ventura a lot of the time but I have a lot of respect for him as well, mainly because he always tells you exactly what he thinks. On this, he and I are in agreement. Every single person who enacted, approved or signed off on torture should be prosecuted.

1 comment:

  1. Anyone with a basic education in psychology knows that punishment doesn't work, and that torture will not elicit any real useful information. People will say anything under duress simply to get the pain to stop. How can you believe what they say is true?

    But then it's not like RRRWers have ever been inteligent or logical.


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