Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Does Torture Work?

I really don't believe that it does, and I've yet to be persuaded otherwise. Anne Applebaum's Op-ed today in the Washington Post (or WaPo, as the blogosphere has come to call it) weighs in:

"The question has been asked many times since Sept. 11, 2001....I've heard it said that the Syrians and the Egyptians 'really know how to get these things done.' I've heard the Israelis mentioned, without proof. I've heard Algeria mentioned, too, but Darius Rejali, an academic who recently trolled through French archives, found no clear examples of how torture helped the French in Algeria -- and they lost that war anyway. 'Liberals,' argued an article in the liberal online magazine Slate a few months ago, 'have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, the argument that torture is ineffective.' But it's also true that 'realists,' whether liberal or conservative, have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, fictitious accounts of effective torture carried out by someone else."

I'm with Anne 100% on this one, and that Slate article was written by Fred Kaplan on September 14th. You can read the article for yourself, but Kaplan, employing inferences from his reading of Hersh's book, tries to make the case for torture. In contrast, Applebaum's article uses direct quotes from experienced field officers about the problems with using torture, a belief that extends to former Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Chris said in an earlier post. However, I think Applebaum's conclusion really gets at one of the biggest problems: the insistent desire of certain individuals to believe that torture does indeed work, despite a large body of evidence to the contrary (and I apologize for quoting so much but she says it best):

"[S]ome military intelligence officers wanted to use harsher interrogation methods than the FBI did. As a result, complained one inspector, 'every time the FBI established a rapport with a detainee, the military would step in and the detainee would stop being cooperative.' So much for the utility of torture.

Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works. At the moment, there is a myth in circulation, a fable that goes something like this: Radical terrorists will take advantage of our fussy legality, so we may have to suspend it to beat them. Radical terrorists mock our namby-pamby prisons, so we must make them tougher. Radical terrorists are nasty, so to defeat them we have to be nastier.

Perhaps it's reassuring to tell ourselves tales about the new forms of 'toughness' we need, or to talk about the special rules we will create to defeat this special enemy. Unfortunately, that toughness is self-deceptive and self-destructive. Ultimately it will be self-defeating as well."

edit>> changed to a block quote for clarity that the quote does not end after the first paragraph -- chris


At 12:49 AM, Blogger Doc NOS said...

Thanks for posting that. I don't read the Post, but I agree with A just buy the argument - no personal experience. It is interesting that the conservatives in America seem to think that torture makes them tough patriots as opposed to their liberal enemies - those wimps who would balk at torture. So I also think torture is becomming a political tool: a litmus test for those who would call themselves true patriots.

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Smythely said...

One would think the Fascist Right would have exhausted their supply of litmus paper by now.

They don't care if it works. These bloodthirsty half-wits can't very well disavow torture of accused terrorists today while simultaneously clearing a path for torturing their domestic political enemies tomorrow.

Except for raining death on foreigners, the neocons rail against all things 1960s. No strangers to irony, neoconservatives are now the if it feels good, do it people. Too bad for the rest of us they have such a perverted sense of what feels good.

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Zang Brothers -- While we certainly appreciate and encourage comments, I have to disagree with a few points you raise. While I am not a fan of this administration, I'd be hard pressed to call them "fascist" as there is essentially no relation between the aims of the current administration and any fascist party. Moreover, I highly doubt that the current torture debate is actually secretly couched in terms of torturing domestic political enemies. After all, the entire legal debate centers around certain ambiguities for the rights of foreign citizens accused of being enemy combatants. I'm not really sure what point you're trying to drive at either-- calling the administration "bloodthirsty" and "fascist" will be seen as extreme, emotional, and over the top by almost all except for those who share your exact feelings.


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