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Is Torture Ever Justified?


Marat
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There has recently been renewed talk of torture being justified because it may have produced information which led to the killing of bin Laden. But is it technically necessary to extract information from resistant subject by such methods?

 

Some have said that since people being tortured simply tell their tormentors anything they think the torturers want to hear, the information produced is always suspect. Also, the drug Scopolamine was used by the Germans during World War II as a preferred method of extracting information from those they were interrogating, since they found it easier to use and less unreliable in the results it yielded than torture. Another drug, Midazolam or Versed, which is today often used to calm patients during minor surgical procedures, causes people to babble freely about anything and everything, and under the influence of this drug they are quite suggestable and respond readily to questions posed.

 

Another method which has some aspects of torture but is not permanently damaging and far less vicious is that used by the Puritans to extract information from suspects during Cromwell's rule. Since the Puritans were determined to obey the law which held that torture was illegal in England, they developed an alternative known as 'watching,' which involved keeping the suspect awake for a few days by having his keepers walk him around the room and keep him moving. (Thus forcing him to 'keep watch' through several nights in a row: thus the term 'watching.') It was found that after a few days of this treatment people would lose all inhibitions and freely reveal all sorts of secrets if interrogated.

 

So if all these alternatives to actual torture by the infliction of pain are available, why do liberal states so often pretend that they are frankly confronted by the dilemma of either allowing torture of suspects to occur or losing the chance to obtain vital secrets from the enemy?

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"Watching" sounds like it takes too long. Seriously, though, my sense is that the discourse on torture is really oriented toward establishing definitional limits of torture that allow government to get away with non-official forms of torture since those are not specifically defined and codified AS torture. I think that governments might also use torture-discussions/policies as propaganda to send out an intimidating message about what could happen to people picked up as suspects. It might not deter people to think that they're going to be detained and kept awake for three days. On the other hand, it might be that releasing people after successfully interrogating them might actually put them in more danger of retaliation from people they ratted on. Also, once people are known as suspects, they could be shunned or even killed by people they knew because they could be seen as a means of tracing new leads for further arrests. Torture like water-boarding sounds horrible and I wouldn't wish it on anyone but it has the benefit of not causing bodily damage and I think it is easier to maintain your honor by saying that you divulged information after subsequent simulated drownings instead of saying that you did so because you were kept awake for 3 days. Either way, it is nasty power tactics to use or just intimidate others with generally. But then, why doesn't anyone complain about the threat of assassination, which is for the most part ever-present as a threat?

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  • 3 weeks later...
[...] why do liberal states so often pretend that they are frankly confronted by the dilemma of either allowing torture of suspects to occur or losing the chance to obtain vital secrets from the enemy?

Which liberal states are you talking about? As far as I know, it's only the USA (all other states that torture aren't in my "liberal", "free" or "democratic" category).

 

In fact, the USA has signed its "The Hague Invasion Act" of 2002 to liberate US military personnel if they would be tried for war crimes in the International criminal court (which happens to be in The Hague, Netherlands, at less than 100 km from my home).

So, in short, if a US soldier commits war crimes (and torture is a war crime) against prisoners of war, and for example a Dutch military police would put the American under arrest for that, then theoretically the US already passed the law which allows it to invade the Netherlands (a faithful ally and NATO member) to free that criminal.

And they passed that law knowing that a lot of countries were members of the International criminal court already, and that practically the whole world had signed the Geneva Conventions (including the USA), and that the torture by the USA was 'allowed' only by a trick of words and the creation of a third category of people in a conflict, namely the "unlawful combatant" which is not included in the Geneva Conventions. So, the USA said that they basically will start to ignore part of the Geneva Convention by inventing a new word, and that they would invade their faithful ally and NATO member if they tried to do something about that through a criminal court.

 

I still think it's the single biggest insult ever by the Americans to the Dutch (and in fact to almost all their allies).

 

This is also interesting (although unrelated to the stuff I wrote above):

Chase J. Nielsen, one of the U.S. airmen who flew in the Doolittle raid following the attack on Pearl Harbor, was subjected to waterboarding by his Japanese captors.[113] At their trial for war crimes following the war, he testified "Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again... I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death."[37] The United States hanged Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American prisoners of war.[9]

 

Anyway... my answer to the question:

Is Torture Ever Justified?

No.

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In the vast majority of cases it's not justified. Whether it's justified or not depends on the potential consequences of not extracting the information from a suspect and also having a high level of confidence knowing that they do hold vital information....not just 'fishing' randomly for information which doesn't work as the subject may just 'confess' to alleviate their stress.

 

A justifiable hypothetical scenario imo would be a 9/11 type situation that the security agencies knew was on the cards ready to be executed and they knew with a high level of confidence they had a main player who had the fate of several thousand lives in his hands...the sky is the limit with methods of information extraction as far as I'm concerned. Take note I advocate torture only in the most extreme circumstances where the cost of not knowing vital information is going to cost too many lives and where their is a high level of confidence that they have a vital link in their hands that can prevent a massive crime against humanity. Sometimes we have to suspend the civil behaviour and ignore the humanitarian rule book imo. I'd rather have blood on my hands knowing I'd saved many lives rather than bringing a perpetrator to 'justice' after the fact with the loss of those many lives...it's a tough ethical minefield without a doubt.

 

Torture is contrary to my nature and I find it abhorrent but I value the lives of innocent people and their preservation higher than wanton killers.

Edited by StringJunky
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I don't think torture is ever justified when the torture causes permanent disfigurement, mutilation, or death. I personally don't have a problem with water boarding [hold your fire please, hear me out].

 

Water boarding is really more of a psychological interrogation technique than physical. The idea is to completely convince the prisoner that you are going to drown him. Once he believes that next time you are not going to stop (from what I understand, water boarding comes along with some serious rough talk), he talks. Now how effective is it? I don't know, and I'll admit that it's efficacy is questionable.

 

In my opinion. I would much rather be water boarded than killed in battle. I've never understood why killing is not a war crime and yet pretending to drown someone is. I think there are interrogation techniques that are "too far". Cutting off fingers, sexual torture, and mutilation are among these. However, war is war. There is nothing beautiful or humane about war. War is by definition, "let's all get together and kill each other until one of us gives up". War is always an immoral sport in my opinion; but if we must go to war, then we must win. I also don't think that members of a non-official terrorist organization that targets civilians should get the same humane treatment as members of a sovereign foreign army.

 

And I don't think those Japanese soldier's should have been hung for water boarding. We dropped two nukes on them...

 

My main problem is that our government lets this kind of information out. If we are going to water board or torture, it should not leave the confines of Gitmo. That sounds terrible, but once again no more terrible than war in general.

Edited by mississippichem
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Conventions of what means can legitimately be used in war depend often on the arbitrary list of things which have been used and accepted as legitimate means historically. Thus fire to burn the enemy is legal, since it was used in Antiquity, but a gas attack which disables enemy soldiers by inducing severe nausea, allowing them then to be captured while they are disabled with retching but with no permanent injury to them is illegal. It has a lot to do with conventions of chivalrous combat, in which killing is permitted but poisoning is not.

 

McCain said recently in a Senate speech that he doesn't believe torture should ever be used since it provides only unreliable information. People often say that since those tortured say anything they think their captors want to hear, their statements are seldom objectively informative. Also, if you can wait a while you can get as much information from someone by keeping him awake for three days and then interrogating him as you can from torture, and perhaps the information will be more reliable. If there is less time available, why not use scopolamine, the Nazi's 'truth serum,' which at least doesn't hurt?

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In my opinion. I would much rather be water boarded than killed in battle. I've never understood why killing is not a war crime and yet pretending to drown someone is. I think there are interrogation techniques that are "too far". Cutting off fingers, sexual torture, and mutilation are among these. However, war is war. There is nothing beautiful or humane about war. War is by definition, "let's all get together and kill each other until one of us gives up". War is always an immoral sport in my opinion; but if we must go to war, then we must win. I also don't think that members of a non-official terrorist organization that targets civilians should get the same humane treatment as members of a sovereign foreign army.

The reason why democracy and freedom emerge as an impetus for war is that so many other wars have established cultures and relationships of domination that repress democracy and freedom. So once people start fighting against domination and oppression itself, the resistance to the rebellion involves pursuing previous and new forms of domination and oppression and repressing the intent and will to seek democracy and freedom. If this is the case, then regulation of torture or other techniques of warfare are just another part of the struggle. Either people are wanting to use regulation to assert authoritarian domination or they are using it to attack torture and other techniques as themselves instruments of domination. But if you view war as having the purpose of winning and dominating others to subjugate them to authoritarian rule, that promotes different methods than if you view war as resistance against domination and authoritarianism. In one case the goal is to subjugate and in the other to liberate. When people are robots driven by terrifying propaganda, are their ways of liberating them from fear that don't involve exposing them to torturous levels of psychological exposure to the thing(s) they've been programmed to fear?

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Why is anyone advocating something which is well documented as not working?

 

If, rather than torturing people, the army were to cast runes they would get equally reliable information.

It would be cheaper, easier, more humane (to both sides) and legal.

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Despite laws prohibiting their trade, tools used for torture are being exported by some European countries to regimes around the world, with little regard for human rights, Amnesty International claims.

EU law expressly prohibits the export or import of goods that have no practical use other than for the purpose of capital punishment or torture, but the lack of enforcement means countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain and Italy are still selling torture instruments abroad – to countries where there is documented proof of the use of such equipment for torture.

 

...At the moment only 7 out of 27 EU member states publicly report on the licenses that are granted for the sales of torture equipment, which is despicable,” says David Nichols, Executive Officer from Amnesty International's European Union Office.

http://rt.com/news/torture-eu-amnesty-international/

 

European governments probably knew that the CIA was flying prisoners across their territory for interrogation and torture in other countries, a report has claimed.

 

The document, an interim report from the Council of Europe, confirmed the rendition of more than 100 prisoners had involved Europe.

 

The Council is the guardian of the Human Rights Convention to which 43 countries, including all 25 EU member states, are signatories. It launched an inquiry into rendition following newspaper reports last year.

 

Dick Marty, a Swiss MP appointed by the Council to lead the investigation, said: "It is highly unlikely that European governments, or at least their intelligence services, were unaware of the 'rendition' of more than a hundred persons affecting Europe."

 

He said there was "a great deal of coherent, convergent evidence pointing to the existence of a system of 'relocation' or 'outsourcing' of torture".

 

"It has been proved - and in fact never denied - that individuals have been abducted, deprived of their liberty and transported ... in Europe, to be handed over to countries in which they have suffered ... torture," he added.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1508662/Europe-involved-with-100-torture-flight-prisoners.html

 

International watchdog Human Rights Watch says three powerful European countries - France, Germany and Britain - use foreign intelligence obtained under torture.

 

In its new report, Human Rights Watch says France, Germany, and Britain cooperate with foreign intelligence services that routinely use torture, even though torture is illegal under international law.

 

Senior Western Europe researcher at the U.S.-based watchdog, Judith Sunderland, says the European countries are sending out the wrong message.

 

http://www.voanews.com/english/news/europe/Rights-Report-Condemns-European-Attitude-to-Torture-97393294.html

 

Torture, deaths while in custody and other abuses of human rights are still occurring in a number of European countries, according to a report by Amnesty International.

European countries should ... end the blight of impunity which exists for police

Amnesty International

The report, published on Thursday, cites torture and death in detention, systematic police ill-treatment, and ethnic and religious repression among the abuses discovered in the 34 countries which were surveyed between July and December 1999.

 

Amnesty International urges European countries to end the impunity enjoyed by the police in many cases.

 

According to the report:

 

torture and ill-treatment were reported in 27 countries

political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were held in 14 countries

Among the cases cited by Amnesty International:

 

In France, police implicated in the torture of Moroccan-Dutch national Ahmed Selmouni remained in their posts years after the case began.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a businessman was reportedly beaten and kicked by three Bosnian-Croat police officers after apparently refusing to pay protection money.

Belgium, Switzerland and other countries have used dangerous methods of restraint, "including deliberate blocking of the breathing passages," during forcible deportations.

Finland and Greece imposed prison sentences for conscientious objection to military service.

In the United Kingdom asylum and immigration laws that came into effect in November are said to have been "severely detrimental to refugee rights".

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/703670.stm

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Observance of the rule of law and the basic principles of humanity is only characteristic of the surface of states; on the hidden side all states are ultimately just a fist.

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I don't think torture is ever justified when the torture causes permanent disfigurement, mutilation, or death. I personally don't have a problem with water boarding [hold your fire please, hear me out].

I had to respond to this.

 

When someone uses physical torture, what they are using is the psychological factor, that the prisoner will continue to suffer unless the prisoner does what their captors tell them. Waterboarding uses the same mechanisms, just that it doesn't leave physical scars.

 

Physical injuries will (mostly) heal over time. So it is not the physical injury that is the main problem.

 

I suffer from a chronic pain condition. One of the things you quickly learn is that pain, injury and suffering are not the same thing. You can have any of them in isolation (without the others), and that is proof that, although they might be closely correlated, they are not the same thing.

 

If you had a prisoner that could not remember any previous torture sessions, then the torture would be completely ineffective. It is the threat of more torture and the promise to stop it that is the cause of the prisoners complying.

 

As it is not pain itself that is aim of torture, but forcing the prisoner to make a choice between compliance and suffering, then any action that uses that same mechanism is torture.

 

It doesn't matter if it leaves a physical scar or not, it is placing someone is a position where they have to choose to endure more suffering or comply with the captors is what torture is. Thus waterboarding is torture.

 

Take this for example: If I placed you in a position where by I would kill or harm members of your family unless you did what I said, would you consider this torture?

 

I would, as would probably most people and you probably would.

 

But, what if I wasn't really harming your family, but was just presenting you with a fake (say really good computer animations of these events). Would this in any way, at the time it occurs, change your experience. No.

 

So, if you would accept the first part as torture, then why would you not accept the second part as torture? As far as you would be concerned there is no difference. It is only in one that you think that harm is being done and the other it really is.

 

Is this not like how you described waterboarding, that it was designed to make the prisoner "think" they were in real physical danger.

 

If you would consider actually drowning a person unless they complied as torture, how is making them believe that you really are going to drown them any different, from the experience of the prisoner?

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There is an important difference here which is disguised by language, in that conceptually thinking that you are about to die from suffocation by drowing is an entirely different and much less horrible experience than physically sensing that you are about to die from suffocation by drowning. The second experience involves enduring the physiological panic reaction to the sensation of imminent drowning, whereas the former just involves the unpleasant concept that lethal drowing is about to occur.

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I had to respond to this.

 

When someone uses physical torture, what they are using is the psychological factor, that the prisoner will continue to suffer unless the prisoner does what their captors tell them. Waterboarding uses the same mechanisms, just that it doesn't leave physical scars.

 

Physical injuries will (mostly) heal over time. So it is not the physical injury that is the main problem.

 

I suffer from a chronic pain condition. One of the things you quickly learn is that pain, injury and suffering are not the same thing. You can have any of them in isolation (without the others), and that is proof that, although they might be closely correlated, they are not the same thing.

 

If you had a prisoner that could not remember any previous torture sessions, then the torture would be completely ineffective. It is the threat of more torture and the promise to stop it that is the cause of the prisoners complying.

 

As it is not pain itself that is aim of torture, but forcing the prisoner to make a choice between compliance and suffering, then any action that uses that same mechanism is torture.

 

It doesn't matter if it leaves a physical scar or not, it is placing someone is a position where they have to choose to endure more suffering or comply with the captors is what torture is. Thus waterboarding is torture.

 

Take this for example: If I placed you in a position where by I would kill or harm members of your family unless you did what I said, would you consider this torture?

 

I would, as would probably most people and you probably would.

 

But, what if I wasn't really harming your family, but was just presenting you with a fake (say really good computer animations of these events). Would this in any way, at the time it occurs, change your experience. No.

 

So, if you would accept the first part as torture, then why would you not accept the second part as torture? As far as you would be concerned there is no difference. It is only in one that you think that harm is being done and the other it really is.

 

Is this not like how you described waterboarding, that it was designed to make the prisoner "think" they were in real physical danger.

 

You have established that the goal of psychological and physical torture is the same. I don't dispute that. I also don't dispute that psychological interrogation techniques are in fact torture. Other than that, what is your argument? My post merely conjectured that psychological torture is less morally reprehensible than torture that inflicts permanent medical harm.

 

Also, address my point about how killing isn't a war crime but water-boarding is. Is there a justification for that?

 

If you would consider actually drowning a person unless they complied as torture, how is making them believe that you really are going to drown them any different, from the experience of the prisoner?

 

I think the difference is obvious. If you actually drown the prisoner...he dies.

 

in saying

"If you had a prisoner that could not remember any previous torture sessions, then the torture would be completely ineffective. "

you seem to overlook the fact that torture is ineffective anyway.

 

I agree by the definition of effective you are using. Most torture sessions do not yield useful information. However, if "effective" is defined as increasing the odds obtaining some useful information from a given prisoner [who has useful information] then I would have to say it was effective.

Edited by mississippichem
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But there is a drug, Versed, which is often used in surgery as an anesthetic, and it operates by preventing patients forming memories of their suffering during the operation, even though it leaves them conscious during the procedure. These patients report that although they could sense pain during the operation, they somehow didn't care about it, and after the Versed wears off, they simply don't remember having experienced anything they would characterize as pain. So this seems to be an instructive model for speculations about torture which the victim did not remember.

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Torture is likely to get the prisoner to say something, but there's no reason to think he will tell the truth (even if he knows it).

If there's a way of checking what he says, then you wasted your time (and your dignity) torturing him in the first place.

If you can't verify the data then you can't use it anyway.

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Torture is likely to get the prisoner to say something, but there's no reason to think he will tell the truth (even if he knows it).

If there's a way of checking what he says, then you wasted your time (and your dignity) torturing him in the first place.

If you can't verify the data then you can't use it anyway.

 

I almost gave a rebuttal but after a short pondering I see your logic and will concede that point.

 

Any information obtained from a torture would session would most probably be unverifiable. I think there are a few cases were it would be verifiable but your logic is quite airtight except for in the most extraneous [unlikely] of circumstances.

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Torture is likely to get the prisoner to say something, but there's no reason to think he will tell the truth (even if he knows it).

If there's a way of checking what he says, then you wasted your time (and your dignity) torturing him in the first place.

If you can't verify the data then you can't use it anyway.

As an example, what if the prisoner told you the location of an arms cache you suspected existed but did not know the location of? You then go there and check it out to see if he told you the truth. The time was not wasted if it resulted in uncovering the cache. Would you be more likely to tell the truth under torture if the torturer told you to expect more of the same if you are lying?

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If you are not an idiot then you tell the torturer things that might be true but can't be verified. For example you could give the location of an old disused arms cache. They waste valuable time and effort finding it and then come back and say that it was empty. You say that it must have been emptied since you last heard about it.

You only have to hold out against telling "the truth" for a relatively short time; information becomes out of date very rapidly in wars.

 

"Would you be more likely to tell the truth under torture if the torturer told you to expect more of the same if you are lying? "

Not really, no.

I'd expect more of the same whether I told the truth or not.

After all, they have already made it clear that they are barbarians who enjoy torturing people. If they were not then they wouldn't do it (and pretend that they were doing it to obtain information).

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Since under torture people have a motivation to invent things which they believe will get the torture to stop, or might still lie intelligently to fool their torturers, it seems to carry a high risk of yielding false information. The best information would be that obtained from someone who was in such a state that he lacked the capacity to exercise intelligent deception. This would recommend the use of those methods which are already known to encourage people to babble unreflectively and without intelligent management of their responses, such as drugs (Scopolamine and Versed) and keeping someone awake for three days running, which the Puritans found so effective in the 17th century. These latter methods have the advantage of not being strictly torture and so being more moral, although keeping people awake for so long is on the borderline of torture.

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I think the problem is that torture will probably be successful on some level, and that will result in its continued use. Some people being tortured will probably never tell anything, some will tell as little as they can manage, and some will tell all. Western countries regularly train their soldiers on how to resist torture because they know torture can be successful.

 

People under duress will make decisions on whether to accept the current pain or to move on. I suspect that people being tortured have a priority for secrets. Taking me as an example, under threat of torture I would give up the location of my car keys so it can be taken by the torturer. I might have to be knocked around a bit before I told them where I kept my stash of cash in the house. If they were after my son to kill him I imagine my resistance would be much greater, although never having been through torture I cannot say with any degree of confidence that I could hold out indefinitely.

 

I would think a soldier would possibly go through the same thought process. If being tortured enough, they may give up the location of a two man partol, thinking that maybe the partol has moved on or can defend themselves. But they may be able to hold out much better if the secret they are keeping is the location of the headquarters.

 

On 9/11 people willingly jumped from the World Trade Center to certain death because they decided that the situation they were in was a worse fate.

 

You are a stronger person than I am. I believe that the knowledge of additional and prolonged torture would cause me to give information I would not give if not being tortured.

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Some report that it is the usual rule in the intelligence field that if an operative is captured, he should try to resist giving any useful information under torture only for long enough to allow the fact of his capture to come to the attention of his agency so that proactive countermeasures can be taken to anything he might reveal. It is expected that the torture victim will eventually give in.

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If torture is so exceedingly ineffective, then why do we still use it? I think it's naive to think that clandestine operations that result in the torture of a prisoner do not yield any information. We're simply not privy to it.

 

If it truly were as ineffective as you all say, no one would do it anymore.

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Trip - Could you not use the same argument for palmistry, tarot cards, and astrology? Just because something cannot provide verifiable results does not mean that those with a financial/career investment in the techniques will not continue to claim they work.

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