What is Torture and Does It Work?

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Mon, Jun 22 - 9:00 am EDT | 2 years ago by
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    Part One: When Ignorance and Dishonesty Pretend To Virtue1

    “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.”
    ~ Former Vice President and Senator (D) Al Gore, on the question of “Extraordinary Rendition”2

    Lines of Departure - Torture

    Twenty or so years ago I used to amuse myself by calling various offices of the anti-personnel landmine ban movement and asking, “When are you people going to get around to banning pre-cast or castable explosives, waterproof containers, batteries, clothespins, conductive wire, and plastic eating utensils? When are you going to do something about hand grenades, shock and pressure sensitive chemical compounds, electric blasting caps, string, and thin wire. What about anti-vehicular mines with anti-handling devices? And refined metals? And rocks? And wood? Don’t you realize these things can harm children? Don’t you care?”3

    I gave it up when I realized that the point was completely lost on them, that – profoundly smug in their certainty of their own inestimable virtue – they were incapable of even seeing the outlines of their own ignorance, let alone realizing how much their ignorance made them useless.4 Mines were just too icky for them to seriously think about.

    So is it, too, with ignorance, sometimes carefully cultivated ignorance, concerning torture.

    Last Tuesday, the United States Senate attached to the Defense Appropriations Bill an amendment purporting to ban torture, should the current Executive Order5 against it ever be repealed, overturned, or withdrawn. Twenty-one Republicans voted against the measure, which ought to be remembered when election time comes, especially after we lose another few buildings or a city6:

    The Atlantic is, of course, apoplectically outraged, as are, one is certain, each and every member of ICOTESCAS, the International Community Of The Ever So Caring And Sensitive.

    *****

    So what is torture? Definitions vary. They seem sometimes to vary to cultivate a particular political position or advance a particular cause. As with the anti-personnel landmine ban movement, mentioned above, it may be that sometimes they just vary through willful ignorance.7 Generally speaking, definitions of torture include both mental and physical suffering, not incident to a lawful sentence, such as flogging in some countries or inserting a needle or dropping someone through a trap door with a rope around their necks, in others. Some, though they couch their words carefully, appear really to be more about preventing intelligence from being gathered than about the method of gathering.8 Some impliedly note that the threat of pain to force cooperation is, in itself, sufficient to constitute torture.9 This, indeed, was the purpose, in olden times, behind giving the proposed victim a tour of and explanation of the functioning of the instruments of torture, which, by the way, worked more often than not.

    Note that the American Psychological Association includes among the techniques constituting torture:

    mock executions; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of fears, phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances; hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; threats of harm or death; isolation; sensory deprivation and over-stimulation; sleep deprivation; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to an individual or to members of an individual’s family.10

    While I find some validity in all the definitions of torture, were they rolled into one it would be terribly and unhelpfully cumbersome. My definition, and we can argue about its validity, is this:

    Torture is the use of mental and/or physical suffering, or the threat thereof, or the threat of death, other than as a result of lawful judicial sentencing, upon someone in some form of legal custody, or upon a third person, in order to elicit cooperation. The desired cooperation may be in the form of obtaining a confession, gathering intelligence, forcing propaganda statements, or similar purposes. The key points are suffering or the threat of suffering or death, or relief from suffering or the threat of suffering or death, of a person in custody, to obtain positive cooperation.11

    That definition is more expansive than some, but less so than others. It has the advantages of covering both forms or torture, mental and physical, implicit or threatened torture, and torture via third parties, while not being, as Amnesty International’s is, either preposterous or, at least, subject to preposterous interpretation.12 Note that the Rome Statute which created the International Criminal Court also requires that the victim be in custody.13

    *****

    Does torture work? It can and often does.

    While the left is perfectly capable of lying about this to themselves and anyone they can get to listen, they are also to some extent lied to, or fooled, by people who are perhaps lying to or fooling themselves. I speak here of those interrogators who claim, in many cases perhaps subjectively truthfully, that they would never use torture. The problem with the claim is that they are using torture, even if they’re unaware of it.

    How can that be, that one is using torture when one is not using torture? It’s not about withholding ice cream treats at Death Camp Guantanamo, nor even playing with a shy prisoner’s privates.14 Rather, it has to do with the nature of captivity and simple human fear. The captive is helpless, utterly helpless. He not only tends to believe the worst, his side’s propaganda arm has usually schooled him to expect the worst. As far as he knows he may be tortured and then killed – shot while escaping, say – with his corpse being chummed and disposed of at sea. He may be framed as a collaborator to his fellow prisoners, with painful or lethal results. His DNA may be analyzed to find his family and punish them for his lack of cooperation. Indeed, if he is – all three – 1) a captive of the United States, 2) familiar with Venezuelan propaganda, and 3) really stupid, he’d have to worry about us using our famed directed earthquake weapon15 on his home town; that, or any other of an infinite number of preposterous notions.

    So these interrogators convince the prisoner that they’ll never harm him? Maybe some try. I doubt it but maybe. Do they succeed? One doubts, seriously. Do they try to convince him that they have so much power that if he fails to cooperate he still won’t be turned over to someone else for harsher measures entirely? Do they succeed in so convincing him? Puh-fucking-leeze; he may be stupid but he’s not that stupid.

    Just ask yourself why the enemy prisoner cooperates at all. It isn’t the ice cream treats. Rapport? Why does he even allow the door to be opened to rapport with his captors, who are also his enemies and in league with Satan, to boot?

    He’s scared shitless, that’s why, scared shitless of what will be done to him if he doesn’t open that door or if he refuses to cooperate in some other way.

    Does this always work, and perfectly? Of course it doesn’t; nothing works always; nothing works perfectly. Only the brain-dead left demands perfection ab initio in everything (except, of course, for their personal political fantasies). Then, too, one runs into the rare but real Leila Khaled, whom one doubts could be broken by anything done to her.16 Fortunately people like that are quite rare.

    Can anyone think of another instance where we depend on threat of pain and suffering to force people in custody to cooperate. Anyone? Yes, you, over there in the back.

    “Plea bargains?”

    Very good. Yes, the very plea bargains upon which our overstrained judicial system depends also employ the very essence of torture. Note, here, that “essence of” is not “exactly the same as.” Rather, both plea bargains and what we define as torture include people in custody, cooperating, for a reduction in suffering or, often enough, no real suffering at all, when serious suffering is threatened or is the plain price for not cooperating.

    “Ah, but that’s all bullshit. Torture never works reliably; all the right thinking people know that.”

    Indeed? Never? I offer into evidence the following two incidents:

    1. On 9 October, 1994 Israeli soldier Nachson Wachsman was kidnapped by Hamas. They threatened to kill him on the 14th unless certain demands were met. The Israelis were able to identify and capture the driver for the kidnapping and, apparently, subjected him to a very rigorous torture session. The driver spilled his guts and a raid was launched to recover Wachsman. Unfortunately, the boy was killed in the raid, along with three of his captors. Still – so sorry, ICOTESCAS – torture worked.17

    2. In Sri Lanka, a group of three Tamil Tigers we believed to have recently planted a bomb somewhere in Colombo, the capital. “The three men were brought before Thomas. He asked them where the bomb was. The terrorists—highly dedicated and steeled to resist interrogation—remained silent. Thomas asked the question again, advising them that if they did not tell him what he wanted to know, he would kill them. They were unmoved. So Thomas took his pistol from his gun belt, pointed it at the forehead of one of them, and shot him dead. The other two, he said, talked immediately; the bomb, which had been placed in a crowded railway station and set to explode during the evening rush hour, was found and defused, and countless lives were saved.”18

    So spare us the bullshit; of course; torture can work. That doesn’t necessarily mean we should use it, or use it generally, if we use it at all, but to claim it cannot work is intellectual and moral dishonesty of the worst kind.

    Continued next week with some practical advice, some future warning, and perhaps a bit more implied sneering at ICOTESCAS and some seventy-eight United States senators.

    __________

    1 This series is dedicated to S. Schwartz, but not C. Paca, who were not only the inspiration for it but also, however unwittingly (and, in the latter case, half-wittedly), helped me focus on and prepare the arguments. Long may they be remembered.

    2 The Economist, July 31, 2008, possibly quoting Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies. http://www.economist.com/node/11837595. I like to bring up both this and the money he’s made off the Global Warming/Climate Change/Carbon trading scam when people claim Al Gore is stupid.

    3 http://www.lexpev.nl/downloads/vietcongimprovisedexplosiveminesandboobytraps.pdf

    4 Note that since then we have signed on for a protocol to a treaty, purporting to ban mines and booby traps, but we have done so with so many restrictions and caveats as to make our being a state party to the treaty pretty much meaningless. See: https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXVI-2-b&chapter=26&lang=en. Note, too, that because it is so easy to make mines and booby traps, the treaties are basically useless. No, they probably won’t cut down significantly on numbers or frequency.

    5 https://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/EnsuringLawfulInterrogations

    6 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/these-21-republicans-voted-against-a-torture-ban/396095/. The doubleplusungood, badthinking thought criminal Republicans were: Jeff Sessions, Alabama, Tom Cotton, Arkansas, Michael Crapo, Idaho, James Risch, Idaho, Daniel Coats, Indiana, Joni Ernst, Iowa, Pat Roberts, Kansas, Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, Senate majority leader, David Vitter, Louisiana, Thad Cochran, Mississippi, Roy Blunt, Missouri, Deb Fischer, Nebraska, Benjamin Sasse, Nebraska, Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma, James Lankford, Oklahoma, Lindsey Graham, South Carolina, Tim Scott, South Carolina, John Cornyn, Texas, Orrin Hatch, Utah, Mike Lee, Utah, John Barrasso, Wyoming

    7 Amnesty International’s definition, for example – “Torture is the systematic and deliberate infliction of acute pain by one person on another, or on a third person, in order to accomplish the purpose of the former against the will of the latter” – would seem to preclude striking someone attacking you with a knife, killing in self-defense unless the method used were quite painless, or killing in battle, generally. I am sure they didn’t mean it quite that way, but willful ignorance will tend to lead one astray. See also, footnote 12, below.

    8 Notably the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture. “Torture shall also be understood to be the use of methods upon a person intended to obliterate the personality of the victim or to diminish his physical or mental capacities, even if they do not cause physical pain or mental anguish.” Well, is it torture if you slip someone a totally painless drug? According to the above it would be.

    9 See, for example, the Torture Victims’ Protection Act of 1991.

    10 http://www.apa.org/about/policy/torture.aspx

    11 I say “positive cooperation” to distinguish it from the threat of being shot while escaping, in order to hold prisoners of war in legal, but not judicially sanctioned, captivity.

    12 That misinterpretation may seem unfair. Note, however, the frequency with which ICOTESCAS misinterprets law of war to support their agenda. This is how, for example, they attempt to turn a ban on firebombing cities full of civilians into a blanket proscription on using incendiaries on troops dug in with overhead cover (quite legal) or using white phosphorus ammunition to create smoke to screen the movement of ones troops (also quite legal). One would be terribly unsurprised, in about a hundred years, should Amnesty’s definition be adopted by then, to see a general ban on lethal ammunition…because reasons…and feelings…and torture…TORTURE!…and the children (*sob*), what about the (*sob*) children?

    13 That shouldn’t have to be said, but the idiocy of many moderns is such that today it must be. Why, yes, as a matter of fact I have run into at least one intellectually challenged lefty who seemed unable to see that some kind of hostile custody was required.

    14 http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/02/us-usa-torture-khan-idUSKBN0OI1TW20150602. We probably find that faintly ridiculous, but the typical devout Muslim is very shy about things like that. I have little doubt but that the experience, if true, was deeply psychologically painful.

    15 http://www.livescience.com/8071-chavez-tectonic-weapon-caused-haiti-quake.html

    16 I can’t help it; terrorist or not I have vast – indeed, pretty much unreserved – admiration for Leila Khaled. Leaving aside that she never harmed anyone, her specialty was sneaking hand grenades onto aircraft to hijack them. She’s not the sort to be bothered by pain. After her face was photographed and became an icon, she had it altered…without general anesthesia. That’s right, as a gesture of solidarity with the struggling masses this girl had plastic surgery done to her face while she was awake and alert. Six fucking times. Leila Khaled break under torture? Is a bear Catholic? Does a pope shit in the woods?

    17 James Franklin, Evidence Gained From Torture: Wishful Thinking, Checkability, And Extreme Circumstances, Cardozo Journal of International & Comparative Law, Volume 17, Number 2, Spring 2009, 281.

    18 Id and http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/01/a-nasty-business/302379/. Interesting, is it not, how much The Atlantic’s moral position seems to have changed as the memory of the attack on their home turf has faded?

    Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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      • Jack Withrow

        What you relate here is just one more example of how the Left has done everything in its power to destroy military capabilities in the West. While you rightly castigate them for their extremely self-absorbed and highly ignorant view on torture, this is really small potatoes to what they have done elsewhere. The ROE’s they have imposed on Western Troops have made it impossible to win a war anymore. (I would love to see an honest accounting of how many troops have died because they could not defend themselves or had to let an enemy go because of those ROE’s.) The social engineering they have forced the military to engage in has destroyed unit cohesion and morale. And the list just keeps going and going. What I would like to see is an honest answer from the Left of who is going to defend them when their misdeeds and meddling finally come home to roost.

        • Tom Kratman

          I’m not done with torture yet, Jack.

          That’s one of those cases where the honest answer would also be a false answer; the bulk of the idjits believe the crap the spout and are emotionally incapable of thinking differently.

        • Jono

          OK he is an idjit, I know. But I admit to being surprised by McCain’s saying that torture doesn’t work.

        • Tom Kratman

          I’ve never been able to figure out if he’s an idiot, delusional – because to him, understandably enough, torture was so awful he can’t being himself to think about it, or if he’s pandering to the crowd, what with being a politician and all. In any case, when you say, as he has, that someone will say anything under torture, and don’t realize that TRUTH is in the category of “anything…”

          More on that next week.

        • Jack Withrow

          Didn’t think you were. While I hope you change some of those idiots’ mindsets, I seriously doubt you will. I just wish there was some way to show how many people died because of their moral cowardice. While we can point to instances where lives were saved, we can’t say how many and more importantly we can’t say how many lives could have been saved if we had gotten the correct information that could have stopped other attacks.
          My point was that while their moral cowardice about torture has hindered us, I don’t know of any way to actually quantify how much it has done so. The ROE issue I believe can be quantified to prove how many body bags the left is responsible for in that case. Until we can tell the US Public this many people died for this stupid reason, they will not pay any attention.

        • Tom Kratman

          Jack, the moral cowardice begins with every officer or NCO who makes the training risk free because it was his career on the line and he though of that, rather than the troops’ needs – oh, and lives – in future battles.

        • Jack Withrow

          No argument there. I think of some of the things we did in training 30-40 years ago, and today it would be impossible to do the same thing. Your career would be ruined just because you suggested such training now. And because of that we send troops into combat unprepared.

        • Tom Kratman

          To be fair, most don’t even know _how_ to do it. Never having been shown the light, it’s hard to criticize them for not being able to see in the dark. I was remarkably fortunate in my assignments as a sergeant, lieutenant and captain. That someone else wasn’t as fortunate…well…we closed down the 193rd, and the 75th only has so much space.

        • Jack Withrow

          Hopefully you are better informed than I am. Last I knew the 75th was being eat up as much as any Division or Bde by being over-supervised to death by the Safety and JAG Zampolits.

        • Tom Kratman

          Not impossible, I suppose, but they get to travel a lot and part of the reason for the travel has always been to get away from the safety-fascisti.

        • James

          “I’m not done with torture yet, Jack.”

          You know I always deep down knew at some point I would see you say that. Such is life.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          This is the reason I doubt the Republic would survive an existential war, and if we were to survive as a Republic I expect it would be a Timocracy. The temptation to micro-manage the armed forces from a position of ignorance is just too great.

        • Jack Withrow

          Ori, Temptation? The Military is micro-managed from a position of ignorance now, and has been since at least Vietnam.

        • Tom Kratman

          Oh, before that. Lincoln tended to do it, too; see his attempt to control three armies in the Valley versus Jackson. The thing about Lincoln, though, was that he learned better. Our more recent crop? No, they rarely learn anything, because to do so they’d have to admit there’s something they don’t know.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          The military is micro-managed now, and that is bad. It gets troops killed. However, that is covered by “acceptable loses” because the remedy, a coup, would be even worse.

          Micro-managing the military now is not an existential threat. In an existential war, it would be. That kind of threat would be sufficient to justify a coup.

        • Tom Kratman

          Troops getting killed is part of the phenomenon of war. Lower numbers are better, of course, but the really key thing is win. It’s that whole winning thing that we’re failing at.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          True, but I think that is a separate problem than the ROEs. From what I understand, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were/are being lost by planned withdrawal by the politicians, not at the military level.

        • Tom Kratman

          Not separate, no; both are symptoms of a deeper rot.

        • Jack Withrow

          Ori, What happens if the troops decide to start that coup because of their getting killed in wholesale lots because of that micro-management? Or worse just quit and march away from the battlefield and in the process lose the war? I don’t think anyone has ever pieced together the true story of the mutiny of the French Army in 1917. So I don’t know if this is true or not. I have read that there were more than a few units in the French Army getting ready to march on Paris in 1917 to decorate the lampposts with French Politicians and Generals. Why that did not happen I truly don’t know.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          Depending on how dire the situation is, it can be anything from a bloodless coup to a civil war that makes people long to the “good old days” when they were fighting under those restrictive ROEs, but at least the enemy was less competent.

          Barring the kind of dire situation that creates a consensus that the government has got to go, I don’t see the US military doing a coup.

        • Tom Kratman

          They’re going to be especially leery of it for the reasons I mentioned in the breakup series of columns; namely, Beirut in the 80s, only much, much worse.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          Exactly. That is why I don’t see it unless the situation is something like Panama during the Posleen invasion.

        • Jack Withrow

          Look up the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in India. That started over a rumor that pig and beef fat was used as bullet lube. True it was not the only cause, but it was the only one that mattered to the rank and file. It could very well be a trivial thing that launches a coup or mutiny.

        • Jack Withrow

          For those that remember it, Beirut in the 80′s is a good example. Only trouble is, how many remember it? I remember it because I spent a fun-filled vacation there in 82, but I doubt there are many left in the Military that do.

        • Iron Spartan

          You know your ROE is fucked when the phrase “you have the inherent right to self defense” had to be added.

        • Tom Kratman

          A telling indicator, yes, but is it an indicator that your ROE are fucked up or that your Army (or Corps) is?

        • Jack Withrow

          Sir, I am not sure, but ISTR that all ROE has to be approved by the Theater Commander, no matter the level of command the ROE is written for. And it doesn’t help having the JAG Zampolits in the TOC, looking over the shoulder of every CMDR when they make a tactical decision.

        • Tom Kratman

          Hence Army or Corps. Part of the problem, though, is that commanders don’t understand the laws of war and various treaty regimes that have sprung up well enough to tell their JAGs to pound sand. I, on the other hand, do…

        • Jack Withrow

          When they moved JAG, PAO, and some others out of the rear and put them into a “Fusion” cell alongside the main TOC I knew it would be a disaster. Time has proven me right IMO. Now it is so entrenched, I don’t see how the interference in the CMDR’s decision making will be overcome.
          As an aside, I would love for you to tackle the Laws of War in a series of columns and show how they have been mangled beyond all recognition by the left.

        • Tom Kratman

          That would require volumes, not columns, but I’ll muse on what can profitably be done.

        • Jack Withrow

          If you could just beat into the Left’s heads that Illegal Combatants have no standing under the Laws of War, that in itself would be a major victory.

        • Tom Kratman

          Likely impossible when they have a treaty, Add. Prot. II to GC IV, that says the enemy _are_ legal combatants, but only engageable when they are carrying arms, which is to say then THEY choose it, and which most of the world has signed onto but which almost nobody who’s serious about war has.

        • James

          He has covered it in a few books.

      • Ming the Merciless

        If the Left is going to accuse us of torture no matter what we do or say… and our prisoners expect the worst of us no matter what we do or say… heck, we might as well torture and get whatever benefits out of it we can.

        “They’ll just lie to make the pain stop” — if they get away with that, you’re not asking the right questions, you’re not verifying what they say (which ought to be easy enough in a ticking bomb situation), and you haven’t made an example out of those previously caught lying.

        • Tom Kratman

          The left and the enemy, to the extent those differ, whose own propaganda arms convinced his own men that we torture viciously.

        • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

          Interestingly enough (or so I have been told by a couple of interrogators), POWs that have been indoctrinated by their own side that they will be tortured unmercifully by the enemy are often *far* more susceptible to the “soft touch”, because it is so outside what they are anticipating, and breaks the paradigm they have built up…

        • Tom Kratman

          Or, as probably, we fool ourselves that it is the soft touch that’s working and what’s really going on is that they’re terrified the soft touch will end and the hard squeeze will begin.

        • James

          Basically because of everything they have been told they freak themselves out thinking of just how bad its going to be.

        • http://twitter.com/newclasstraitor NewClassTraitor

          Or the classical music performance? (“Nutcracker Suite”) ;)

        • Anonymous

          Indeed. I seem to recall that in the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein told his soldiers that US Marines were “Death Angels,” and were required to kill their own fathers before they could enlist. The result was an Iraqi military so desperate to avoid meeting these “Death Angels” on the battlefield that they surrendered to news crews and unarmed, unmanned drones.

          Telling the troops over and over again that their foes eat babies doesn’t always stiffen their resolve. Who knew?

        • Duffy

          Hate to be the Party Pooper, but everyone of the prisoners we get will also claim they were tortured by us, no matter what we do. I mean it is literally in their training.

        • Tom Kratman

          Hence, why not if there’s time and advantage?

        • Duffy

          I was thinking a continuous stream of either MSNBC or Jerry Springer, although possibly cruel and unusual, might be effective. On the other hand, giving them an AKO e-mail address and then requiring them to complete the full regimen of online annual training required might well be effective. Especially every version of CO2 training ever promulgated.

        • Tom Kratman

          But we don’t have years in which to complete the annual bullshit training to time requirements.

        • Mary
        • http://twitter.com/newclasstraitor NewClassTraitor

          How about a 24h stream of “Barney in Concert”? That HAS to be forbidden by the 8th Amendment ;)
          /I’d probably beg to be waterboarded instead

        • Tom Kratman

          I’m not sure we should have someone with that level of cruely in his or her makeup even employed in our service.

          alt.barney.dinosaur.die.die.die

        • http://twitter.com/newclasstraitor NewClassTraitor

          The Israelis have known this for many years. In fact, the exaggerated claims of torture by various “Palestinian” prisoners may well have contributed to the fearsome reputation of the Shin Bet…

      • John Becker

        Very enlightening

      • KenWats

        I’m shocked… shocked to find the pragmatic, reasonable, and almost intelligent quote you used to head the article. Do I have to re-evaluate my opinion of Al Gore?

        • Tom Kratman

          Nah, overall he’s still a fraud and, at least morally, a thief.

      • Steven Schwartz

        Well, since you so *kindly* dedicated this to me, I feel duty-bound to respond.

        “Twenty or so years ago I used to amuse myself by calling various offices of the anti-personnel landmine ban movement and asking, “When are you people going to get around to banning [insert lengthy list of things that can either hurt people, or be used as part of making anti-personnel landmines] Don’t you realize these things can harm children? Don’t you care?”

        Saying “Thing X should be banned” is not the same as saying “nothing like thing X will ever exist, now they we’ve banned it.” After all, people during Prohibition did not try banning potatoes.

        What any kind of a ban like that does — what any criminal prohibition does — is allows a society to punish by due process of law the person who violated said ban. That’s all. So saying, in effect, “people can manufacture ways to kill people, so we shouldn’t ban ny means of killing people” is risible.

        “Twenty-one Republicans voted against the measure, which ought to be remembered when election time comes, especially after we lose another few buildings or a city”

        You know, it’s funny — I’ve never seen anyone go “Hey, you know all that excess money we spent on military stuff we didn’t need? Someone should be held responsible for that waste, especially after we lose another few thousand people to poor health care/environmental catastrophe/etc./etc./etc.” — because what you’re arguing here, implicitly, is that torture is preventative medicine — and no one ever counts the cost of preventative medicine, except when *gasp* *choke* the State actually wants to supply *real* preventative medicine, not metaphorical medicine.

        So when torture *fails*, should we remember those who voted for it, and what should we do to them?

        And what shall we do to those who approved it, when the consequences come home to roost in other ways – like the strengthened resistance to the U.S. in the Middle East as a result of things like Abu Ghraib?

        *****

        “So what is torture? Definitions vary. They seem sometimes to vary to cultivate a particular political position or advance a particular cause.”

        Indeed — as with the redefinition as “enhanced interrogation techniques” that which many people would call “torture” to get around existing law.

        “Some impliedly note that the threat of pain to force cooperation is, in itself, sufficient to constitute torture. This, indeed, was the purpose, in olden times, behind giving the proposed victim a tour of and explanation of the functioning of the instruments of torture, which, by the way, worked more often than not.”

        When you say “It worked more often than not”, are you referring to its success rate in gaining “confessions”? Because that does not speak in any way to its usefulness in acquiring intelligence information, say, or, indeed, furthering the cause of justice it was allegedly being used for.

        “Torture is the use of mental and/or physical suffering, or the threat thereof, or the threat of death, other than as a result of lawful judicial sentencing, upon someone in some form of legal custody, or upon a third person, in order to elicit cooperation. The desired cooperation may be in the form of obtaining a confession, gathering intelligence, forcing propaganda statements, or similar purposes. The key points are suffering or the threat of suffering or death, or relief from suffering or the threat of suffering or death, of a person in custody, to obtain positive cooperation.”

        I see two things you’re trying to slip in here, and I’m going to call you out about it now.

        1) “upon someone in some form of legal custody”— I don’t know if you intended to write this in such a way as to exclude interrogations in field conditions for espionage, or not; but kidnapping someone and doing the below things to them is torture.

        2) “…outside the processof lawful judicial sentencing.” –What you’re slipping in there, as I’ve seen you do before, is plea-bargaining. And no, no one I have ever heard on the side you dismiss with your silly acronym views plea-bargaining as torture.

        Which means yours is, as you put it, “subject to preposterous

        interpretation.”

        But I can work with it, given the caveats above.

        *****

        “Does torture work? It can and often does.”

        There are so many definitions of “work” that a blanket statement like that, absent definitions and details, is useless. Does it elicit statements from the tortured? Yes. Does it elicit useful, or accurate statements? That’s an entirely different question. Does it elicit useful or accurate statements more effectively than other means, offsetting the damage it causes? That’s yet a third question.

        “I speak here of those interrogators who claim, in many cases perhaps subjectively truthfully, that they would never use torture. The problem with the claim is that they are using torture, even if they’re unaware of it.”

        “The captive is helpless, utterly helpless. He not only tends to believe the worst, his side’s propaganda arm has usually schooled him to expect the worst.”

        This is not an argument in favor of keeping torture legal; this is an argument that “well, they expect it to be true, so it is, in some very tenuous way, true.” Saying that people expect to be tortured, therefore they are being tortured, therefore it’s all right to torture them further is both inhumane and risible.

        Why do you want to make the “other side’s” propaganda arm correct, by the way? This seems rather to be playing into their hands.

        (As a side note, you seem to be implying that every police department in the United States is guilty of “torture” — because people are afraid of what might happen to them, what *could* happen, the moment they get inside the station.)

        The definition and approach you’re using here does make it seem like *any* state of arrest or captivity is torture — at which point one has to wonder why you are so keen on broadening the definition to the point of meaninglessness, rather than focusing on the core.

        “Just ask yourself why the enemy prisoner cooperates at all. It isn’t the ice cream treats. Rapport? Why does he even allow the door to be opened to rapport with his captors, who are also his enemies and in league with Satan, to boot?”

        Because he’s a human being, and human beings connect with each other. At least, that’s what I’ve been told by multiple military/intelligence interrogators I have known, and read from the accounts of others.

        Just because *you* apparently can see no motivator other than fear does not mean that there exists no such motivator.

        ““Plea bargains?”

        Very good. Yes, the very plea bargains upon which our overstrained judicial system depends also employ the very essence of torture. Note, here, that “essence of” is not “exactly the same as.” Rather, both plea bargains and what we define as torture include people in custody, cooperating, for a reduction in suffering or, often enough, no real suffering at all, when serious suffering is threatened or is the plain price for not cooperating.”

        And here we’re back to the other point I thought you were smuggling in in your definition. Once again — why are you trying to broaden the definition, except to say ‘Oh, it’s not that bad’ and open the door for all the stuff that, yes, is that bad?

        Because by describing this as “the very essence of torture”, in a situation where the power imbalance is nowhere near that of the kind of scenario we’re talking about in most views of torture, you’re once again spreading that notion tissue-thin.

        ” “Torture never works reliably; all the right thinking people know that.”

        Indeed? Never? I offer into evidence the following two incidents:

        [anecdotal data deleted]

        So spare us the bullshit; of course; torture can work. That doesn’t necessarily mean we should use it, or use it generally, if we use it at all, but to claim it cannot work is intellectual and moral dishonesty of the worst kind.”"

        OK. My jaw is just dropping here. You give two examples, and use them as a contradiction to the claim of “reliability”.

        If something worked twenty times out of 40, would you consider that “reliable”? (And do remember, there is a massive bias in favor of reporting *success* in these cases)

        Here’s the thing, as has been pointed out before: To make torture work as reliably as non-torture methods (if that can be done), you need to have people who are proficient at it.

        In order to have people who are proficient at it, they need to have either a) a great deal of practice, or b) a very firm theoretical understanding/background.

        To acquire either a) or b), you need to do a lot of work on torture — in other words, torture a lot of people. And not “torture” them by showing them exhibits and hoping they’ll crack, or “torture” them by offering them a plea bargain — actually torture them by the kind of methodologies I think we all would agree qualify as torture (except for those who want to call them “enhanced interrogation” to skirt the law ;)).

        So to use it effectively, we *have* to use it for more than the classic “ticking time-bomb” scenarios; otherwise, we have no reason to suspect it *will* be effective.

        I submit that the moral dishonesty of “Any form of coercion or pressure is, really, the very essence of torture, and any time someone’s in custody they’re being tortured, so why are we talking about banning torture?” is far greater than the dishonesty of “Torture doesn’t work, except in very narrow limited circumstances”.

        Torture on a tactical level might (emphasis on might) work – though whether better than skilled non-tortuous interrogation is another question; but on the strategic level, it has shown again and again to be catastrophic, both for internal morale and efficacy in the field.

        It is, in that regard, like many of the other things banned (and here we come around full circle) by international treaty; things we’ve decided are so bad for the world that it’s not worth resorting to them to win a war.

        • Tom Kratman

          That’s all because it doesn’t fit your pravda, Steven.

          Due process of law doesn’t really work on the enemy in war. If you knew anything about war, the practical or common law of war, the nature of war and of the men who wage it, you would know that. You plainly do not, so spare us the attempt to present your ignorance as insight.

          “Gaining confessions” is intellectually dishonest slight of hand. What it gained was cooperation. Whether that cooperation is valid intelligence or judicial bullshit depends on outside factors. But you would have to be something other than a pravda spewing moron to understand that.

          No, not because human beings connect with each other; because – you simpering idiot – we are not even human to him in any real sense. We’re devils; we’re demons; we’re the enemy. And we were so painted by his own propaganda arm before he ever saw us. He cooperates because he’s scared to death. Now I realize that as an enemy of civilization, as the harbinger of the gulag,.as the enabler of those who toss acid in young girls faces _you_ see a common humanity with them., but that’s because they’re just like you and you are just like them. You want them to toss that acid, Steven, you want them to blow up those civilians. You aid them and enable them in every way you can.

          Actually, no Steven, you don’t need a lot of practice. Interrogation without torture requires a lot of practice and some skill that is rare and probably innate. For torture you need the right procedure. Next week for that.

          And that’s all the answer you deserve, you dishonest, despicable, cretinous and cowardly filth..

        • Steven Schwartz

          A quick hint, Tom: Try quoting. It makes it easier to see what you’re actually *responding* to.

          “Due process of law doesn’t really work on the enemy in war. If you knew
          anything about war, the practical or common law of war, the nature of
          war and of the men who wage it, you would know that. You plainly do
          not, so spare us the attempt to present your ignorance as insight.”

          A ban on manufacture, transfer, or stockpiling in peacetime – e.g. the Ottawa Treaty — *does* fall under “due process of law.”

          So do please stop displaying your ignorance and/or lack of reading comprehension as argument.

          “”Gaining confessions” is intellectually dishonest slight of hand. What
          it gained was cooperation. Whether that cooperation is valid
          intelligence or judicial bullshit depends on outside factors.”

          And guess what? Outside factors are in large part what counts when you’re judging the usefulness of torture. Otherwise, all you’re saying is “Yes, torture people and they’ll tell you things” — which no one has ever disputed.

          “No, not because human beings connect with each other; because – you simpering idiot – we are not even human to him in any real sense.”

          Tom, projecting your worldview onto the enemy is not always the most helpful thing — especially when it’s a view like this one.

          You may have decided the the world is full of your people and targets — but that does not mean that a) everyone else has, and b) they cannot be changed from their position.

          And the fact that you don’t see a common humanity with them — that you are willing to torture them because they’ll already expect it — it is *you* who are recruiting for the enemy, by making their worst predictions about us come true. You are the one who is saying “Agree with us or we will torture you” — your words that would appear on recruitment posters for Al Qaeda, for ISIS, for whomever you oppose.

          It is your words, and the words and deeds of people like you, that fuel the foes of the United States; indeed, the only reason I do not call you traitor is that you haven’t been *effective* enough to qualify, and, unlike you, I believe in things ike due process of law, even to those, like you, who are enemies.

          “as the harbinger of the gulag, as the enabler of those who toss acid in young girls faces”

          Quick clue: not all left-wingers are communists (and by no means all communists are Stalinists), and those who toss acid in young girl’s faces are more closely aligned with the right wing than the left — their sole major differnce to parts of the Right in this country is a debate over *which* religion serves as an excuse for their behavior.

          “Actually, no Steven, you don’t need a lot of practice.”

          Oh, it’s easy to hurt someone. It’s easy to harm someone. It’s easy to make someone talk. To make them talk usefully, to make sure that the people you’re torturing don’t die or deceive you — that’s different.

          But since you appear to be of the mindset that treats torture as a good in and of itself, you don’t really care about that, do you?

          And as for your last bit — at least I’m not undermining the security of a country I claim to love, and betraying an oath and a uniform. At least my words don’t belong on recruitment posters for the enemy, and at least my words don’t discredit the Constitution and other founding documents of this country.

        • Tom Kratman

          No. Work through it.

          It does, actually, because of the ease of manufacture. You cannot stop it by treaty because, in the nature of war, which is to say when it’s a matter of life and death, nobody gives a shit about your “due process of law” or the treaty (you brought it up, remember?). It’s just more lefty feelgoodism, that can only harm the idiot powers weak enough and unserious enough about war to actually pay attention to the treaty. As with Add Prot II, countries serious about war ultimately pay Ottawa no attention.

          Steven, were you not so box-o-rocks ignorant of the nature of war and captivity in war you would be funny. As it is, you’re just pathetic. The nature of hostile captivity is doctrinal. It is historical. It is so universal that you can find it echoing in all cultures, countries, and peoples.

          And there’s the typical lefty, smugly self-righteous and secure that his sociopathy will not be discovered, projecting onto others.

          I don’t know about “all lefties;” I observe it in you, however.

          That’s what fuel the foes? Oh, you are just _precious_, Steven. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

          Ha.

          No, Steven, it’s not different. Fear and pain cause cooperation. More usual intel gather and recording, so that one can check and train the captive, are what make the cooperation pointed and useful.

        • Steven Schwartz

          “It does, actually, because of the ease of manufacture.”

          I presume you mean “It doesn’t” — otherwise, you’re agreeing with me, which I suspect you’d do only under extreme duress.

          Here’s a quick clue: in time of war, people can’t use weapons they don’t have — and they have to decide what’s worth building, and what’s not.

          Furthermore, in time of war, people also have to decide whether it’s worth building weapons that will get them hauled

          up before an international court and potentially executed. Since the generals and staff officers so rarely face that risk, these days….

          Again, you appear to be taking the position that banning something is useless unless it somehow actually eliminates it; while most of the rest of the universe (and all the parts that care about law, etc.) care that it *reduces* it.

          I will skip your random rambling about doctrines, since it’s not clear what you’re responding to — if you actually cared about discussion, rather than throwing out insults, you’d make it clear.

          “I don’t know about “all lefties;” I observe it in you, however.”

          You’re the one who equates “the left” with “the enemy”. I have never stated any support for “the gulag”, or any of the things you accuse me of — indeed, I have stated my opposition to them. Your observation appears to need recalibration.

          “That’s what fuel the foes? Oh, you are just _precious_, Steven. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

          I’m looking, and finding military interrogators and generals citing torture and places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo as major recruiting tools for Middle Eastern extremists.

          I do tend to trust them rather more than I trust you.

          “No, Steven, it’s not different. Fear and pain cause cooperation. More usual intel gather and recording, so that one can check and train the captive, are what make the cooperation pointed and useful.”

          If I have the choice of believing you on the subject, or believing actual interrogators? I’ll believe the people who were on the front lines of that particular fight over someone who tries to argue that plea bargaining is torture, therefore people opposed to torture have no leg to stand on.

        • Tom Kratman

          Next week, Steven, I shall outrage and offend you more. For now, no time.

        • Steven Schwartz

          No, Tom. You’ll give me more stuff to correct you on. I’m well past the point of being outraged or offended by you.

        • Tom Kratman

          To correct me, Steven, would require a) that you know something about the subject, other than your fantasies, b) that you have a logical mind, and c) know there is a difference between truth and falsehood. None of those things is true of you.

          Now I really must get to work, so if you desperately want to comment, you will have to comment to a vacuum until next week.

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