I will resume my series on money creation next week. Current events, tragically, have dictated a momentary subject change.
Dante, the great Italian poet, defined wrath as “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.” Like many evils, wrath takes a good passion —our desire for justice —and twists it into something else, a lust for violence. Wrath is the kind of thing that leads otherwise clear-thinking individuals to call for torture as a means of interrogation. This kind of talk was common after 9/11, and it has been brought up again after Boston.
Torture is profoundly immoral, and the fact that we have toyed with it since 9/11 will forever undermine our credibility as a “human rights” nation. You can’t say you are in favor of human rights and torture. If you try, all thinking listeners will laugh you to scorn, and you will deserve it.
However, moral arguments aside, torture fails utterly even on the practical level. In short, it doesn’t work. In order to illustrate why, let’s start with a story:
Once upon a time in real life, during the Crusades, the Knights of Malta were defending a Christian fortress from Muslim attack. One unfortunate knight was captured and interrogated. By “interrogate,” I mean they lit a fire on his belly and asked for the weakest spot in the defenses. Before he died, he gave them the location they asked for.
His captors then raced off to take advantage of this “intelligence” while it was still fresh.
They attacked the weak spot full force, due to their confidence in the torture-gained intelligence. In the end, after lots of Muslim soldiers were dead, it became apparent that the dying knight had actually given them the location of the strongest point in the defenses, not the weakest.
This illustrates something that is commonsense, so long as our commonsense is not tainted with bloodlust. To put it in the words of CIA official, Bob Baer, “…you don’t get the truth. What happens when you torture people is, they figure out what you want to hear and they tell you.”
Take a look at the Army’s own field manual (FM34-52, Ch. 1):
“Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
Think of all the witches and warlocks that “confessed” to their sorcery in Salem and across Europe. Obviously, no one in their right mind would admit that they were controlling the weather with a frog-leg stew they boiled up in the backyard. Those “suspects” had to be tortured first. They had to be pressed under stones before they would lie and confess to crimes they didn’t commit.
Page 2 of 3 - In order to reinforce their bad arguments for torture, the sadistic advocates will present the public with a dramatic situation. I’m talking about the “ticking time-bomb” scenario, where thousands of lives are at stake, time is running out, and there is no other way to get the terrorist to reveal the location of the bomb except by torturing him. It sounds convincing until we remember the story of the dying knight who sent his torturers straight to their deaths in sweet poetic irony.
Fear impairs thinking. Therefore, always be wary of the man who tries to scare you before reasoning with you. Such people, knowing they cannot convince the mind, resort to convincing the emotions, because that is much easier. This is the strategy of torture advocates and their time-bomb scenario.
Right reasoning and real-life experience both shoot the “ticking time-bomb” argument to pieces. So now we have two problems: torture doesn’t get accurate information, and it takes a long time.
The guys who actually know what they are talking about will tell you that all effective torture methods require extended periods of time. A determined prisoner, especially one acting on religious convictions, will not give in under short doses of physical pain, even if that involves a fire lit on his belly. If we explore the preferred methods from Japan to Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union, we will see that they all involved prolonged starvation, sleeplessness and sensory-deprivation. Think of the old “Chinese water torture” thing — it worked, but it never worked in a hurry.
Even the No. 2 counter-terrorism official in the state department, Terrell E. Arnold, said torture creates more terrorists than it stops. That’s right: torture encourages terrorism, while doing nothing to stop it.
Finally, to bring the foolishness of torture to a peak, its proponents will try to pretend water-boarding is humane, non-violent, and somehow gentle. It’s as if they truly believe that there is such a thing as “nice torture.” “It’s not like we are lighting fires on the guy’s belly” they might say. Once you have rationalized torture as a means, it does not matter that you are only torturing with a bucket of water and some rope. It is only a few steps more before water will become oil, and the prisoner will be boiling in it.
Retired U.S. Army officer and founding member of Delta Force, Eric Haney, summed up the real problem of torture: “The only reason anyone tortures is because they like to do it. It’s about vengeance, it’s about revenge, or it’s about cover-up. You don’t gain intelligence that way. Everyone in the world knows that.”
Page 3 of 3 - In World War II, interrogators got more information with chess and ping-pong than torture has gotten since 9/11. I know this isn’t what we want to hear. We detest the idea of playing board games with terrorists. Something inside us would prefer they get the fire or the rack, but that is the wrath speaking, and it must be rejected. Torture does not gather intelligence, nor does it save lives. In the end, as Eric Haney said, the only real reason a man will torture is because he likes doing it. Torture, including water-boarding, is just sadism masquerading as justice.
The opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the The McPherson Sentinel or GateHouse Media. If you have any related questions or suggestions that you would like to see explored here, simply email me at email@example.com.