When I was a kid, I liked the musical band Devo,
whose name was derived from their concept that man was devolving. It was funny
at the time, but 30 years later I feel compelled to write why torture is wrong,
so maybe Devo was right. I wrote about apparent torture at the U.S. naval base
in Cuba last December, long before the publication of torture photos from Abu
Ghraib prison in Iraq. There had been dozens of press reports about officially
sanctioned abuse of prisoners by U.S. troops, so it was bound to get worse until
action was taken.
Much blame falls upon Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who dismissed
questions about abuse as a joke, claiming those prisoners were horrible people.
This caused severe damage with America's law abiding allies, and most of these
horrible abused prisoners were released this year after the U.S. Army concluded
they were innocent. Mankind has been fighting wars for thousands of years; this
is not a new issue. The world thought the torture question had been resolved
decades ago through the Geneva Conventions. The United States lost 400,000 dead
during World War II, but never tortured prisoners to "save lives."
Nevertheless, many devolved Americans have begun to question the ban on torture.
Here are four reasons why torture is wrong:
1. Torture may save lives, but is likely to backfire and cause more American
deaths in the long term.
There is a debate on whether torture is more effective than bribes, tricks,
wiretaps, and informants. Let us assume it is effective and may prevent an attack.
The problem is that reports of torture by Americans cause anger toward the U.S.
and spawn more terror attacks. One of the reasons that most Iraqis now hate
American occupiers is because of the widespread and officially sanctioned torture
in Iraq. After the routine torture at Abu Ghraib prison was exposed, the U.S.
Army dispatched investigators who determined that 80% of the arrested Iraqis
had committed no crime. Whenever there was an explosion in Iraq, American forces
arrived and rounded up suspects for interrogation, most were bystanders. These
innocent Iraqis have thousands of friends and relatives who now hate American
soldiers. This wasn't a "few bad apples" as some claim. Although the
truly nasty photos have not been released, those
published show a dozen or more soldiers openly abusing prisoners in the
middle of a cell block for everyone to see.
Whenever former CIA Director William Webster was briefed on a proposed covert
operation, he would always ask how it will look when it becomes public. Webster
knew that most secret operations eventually became public, and the fallout from
such disclosures was sometimes more damaging than whatever the operation might
If senior leaders in the Pentagon had evaluated the damage to American credibility
that would occur WHEN news of torture became public, they would have turned
down the idea. In an era of e-mail and digital cameras, any wrongdoing can be
exposed worldwide within hours. The senior military man in Iraq, General Ricardo
Sanchez, approved the torture and a U.S. Army captain has stated Sanchez was
there during torture sessions. This is why Sanchez has been quietly retired,
and why a major cover-up is underway. In the end, they'll lock up a few mid-level
officers. See the great movie Breaker
Morant for an example of how generals evade blame for war crimes.
2. If the USA ignores the Geneva Conventions, other nations and groups will
U.S. troops taken prisoner now face the prospect of torture, not just for
information, but as payback. Even the Nazis during World War II generally adhered
to the Geneva Conventions. At that time, allied planes were bombing German cities
to rubble killing thousands of civilians weekly. Perhaps torturing downed Allied
pilots might have provided information to save German lives, but the German
military treated allied POWs well. As the French fought to retain their colony
in Vietnam during the 1950s, they routinely abused and tortured prisoners. So
it was no surprise that the North Vietnamese abused American POWs two decades
later in the same Hanoi prison used by the French.
There was outrage in the U.S. during the 1991 Gulf War and the recent invasion
of Iraq about the treatment of American POWs. Some Americans were roughed up
a bit, but nothing serious. Given the war conditions, the Iraqi medical treatment
of Private Jessica Lynch was outstanding. In contrast, an Iraqi general died
while being tortured by U.S. Army officers from the 3rd ACR, but the Army was
reluctant to press charges. A year before that, two Afghanis died from beatings
by American soldiers. An Army doctor listed the cause of death as homicide,
yet no charges were ever filed.
Some argue that only POWs are protected by the Geneva Conventions, so anyone
labeled as an "enemy combatant" or "terrorist" is not covered.
That is false. POWs cannot be charged with crimes committed while fighting.
However, all civilians must be treated humanely; no torture. They can be tried
and convicted of crimes, and even executed, but not tortured.
3. There are never "ticking time bombs" where torture is justified.
The most common argument for torture is that if a terrorist (or a "commando,"
if he is on your side) is caught and brags that a big bomb will explode and
kill hundreds of people, he should be tortured to save lives. In such cases,
a high-level court or authority could issue a "torture warrant." This
idea is advocated by Alan
Dershowitz, who traveled the nation last year promoting it. Unfortunately,
the values of most Americans have sunk so low that few were outraged, and Harvard
didn't even fire this "Professor of Law." If Dershowitz had referred
to terror suspects as "niggers," the nation would be aghast. Indignant
idiots would exclaim: "I can't believe he used the 'N' word," but
saying they should be tortured attracted little attention.
The problem with this idea is that no suspect will brag if it will result
in torture, or alert his captors to look for and disarm his bomb. In rare cases
in which something is about to happen, the information is needed within minutes,
and arranging a court hearing or permission from a VIP during that time is near
impossible. In addition, "ticking time bombs" are only in movies.
A terrorist uses a fuse that explodes a few minutes after he is safely away,
or he just blows himself up. Finally, while terror groups may cooperate, they
are smart enough to limit the details of an attack to only those who will carry
it out. If one member of the group is arrested or is missing, they will abort
the attack anyway.
Another issue is that senior government leaders do not want to openly violate
international law, lest they find themselves unwelcome at embassy dinner parties
and have unkind things said about them in the media. So if they have authority
to allow torture in rare and urgent cases, they will delegate that authority
down the chain-of-command. However, mid-level officials know to evade blame,
too, so the authority is pushed downward verbally until hillbillies from the
Virginia National Guard in Iraq hear vague orders from unknown officers
and decide to rough up everyone. They are left unsupervised since officers don't
want to be held accountable. After a few weeks, the situation devolves into
anarchy as women and teenage boys are raped, prisoners die from beatings, while
children of prisoners are abused to get their fathers to talk. Yes, all this
happened in Iraq; read the
4. Civilized people don't torture people.
In the great movie The
Bounty, Captain Bligh, played by Anthony Hopkins, and a dozen of his
men are set adrift in the South Pacific on a small boat. They are soon starving,
and one of the weaker seamen suggests to Bligh that once he dies, the others
eat his corpse to survive. Captain Bligh rejects that idea by stating: "No,
Sir! We were born as civilized men and we shall die as civilized men."
That statement rings true in regards to torture. There is more to life than
staying alive. A society must have standards and laws, and once those are dropped,
man will devolve and the society collapse. So if a young soldier or high-level
politician suggests they torture a prisoner in hope of getting information which
may save lives, the man in charge must know to say: We are civilized and don't
torture people. If we die, then we die as civilized people.