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What is Torture?
May 26, 2005 10:30 PM   Subscribe

What is Torture? Slate does an in-depth primer on American interrogation, with the chain of command, legal memos, a taxonomy of torture tactics "listed in order from least to most severe" (which roughly corresponds to the Human Rights Watch Table of Interrogation Techniques Recommended/Approved by U.S. Officials), and military reports.
posted by kirkaracha (15 comments total)

I've never really understood why any military organization would want to rely on information obtained from torture. It seems inherently unreliable. While it is a far remove, the numerous documented false confessions in the criminal law context show how pliant a detainee can become, even without the extremes of physical abuses. (By the way, where's the forced kneeling on uncooked rice torture?)

I recall seeing an interview with a senior Israeli interrogator, who said that he almost never used torture (except maybe the threat of it), and who said that there was a miniscule minority of people who could withstand a well devised, expert interrogation. I believe it.

To my mind, the last thing ANY country ought to be doing is trying to come up with some justification to legalize torture - because when your citizens are at the pointy end of the stick (in this framework, potentially literally) in the future, it's too late to close that barn door.

That said, I'm a big believer in "Better living through chemistry", so if pharmacologists can create some useful truth drugs - I could probably be convinced that judicially authorized injections would be acceptable.
posted by birdsquared at 10:51 PM on May 26, 2005

That's funny. Looking back, water boarding was taught to me in infantry training, right out of boot camp. On field exercises, if we caught a memeber of the opposing force, we'd put grab a 5 galln water jug and a couple of empty sand bags. The "prisoner" thinking we only had the 5 gallon jug, would get nervous as we put the two bags over his head.

Then, we'd pour water from a canteen over his face. This was enough to elicit thoughts of drowning/suffocation, and thinking that we had a whole 5 gallons to go, they'd inevitably disclose their unit's position or other bullshit we wanted to know.

Beatings and humiliation are commonplace in the military, so anyone captured by the enemy should expect that. It was, in essence, what Parris Island was all about. Everthing combat related, parade drill and militayr knowledge/history could be taught in a different setting. What they really wanted to teach you needed the surroundings of a prison (concentration) camp.

I'd like to thank the US taxpayers.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:08 PM on May 26, 2005

To balance the views on what torture is, I recommend Jean Améry's "Reflections on Torture" (included in this collection of essays, "At the Mind's Limits") in which he tries to philosophically explain his experiences before, during and after having been tortured by the nazis for having worked for the resistance.

My own (admittedly a bit doggerel) translation of the last paragraph of that essay:

"Who has been succumbed by torture cannot feel at home in the world anymore. The ignominy of annihilation cannot be erased. The faith in the world, which already partially collapses with the first hit and totally tumbles down in the torture itself, cannot be regained. That the fellow human being was experienced as an object, a thing, stays within the tortured one as a retained horror: Beyond this no one gazes into a world dominated by hope. Who has been tortured is at the mercy of fear, without any arms. Fear is what henceforth waves its scepter above him. Fear - and then also what is called resentments. These stay and almost don't have any chance to foamily concentrate into a purifying thirst for revenge."
posted by zerofoks at 11:53 PM on May 26, 2005

Very nice post, and developing thread.

[This is good]
posted by loquacious at 2:52 AM on May 27, 2005

A related update to the earlier Gitmo post: "Prisoner Recants Quran-Desecration Claims". Hard to know what's real and what's not these days, but interesting development.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 3:22 AM on May 27, 2005

bin Laden's on Dantooine....

Wait, you guys don't care?

Well ...... Saddam's bellboy's cousin's milkman's aunt's former roommate is there too. Go get 'em!

There's something to be said, (like, it's right), for respecting human rights, even if it means that we put ourselves in danger. Torture is unacceptable IMHO.
posted by SomeOneElse at 3:27 AM on May 27, 2005

Torture is unacceptable IMHO.

Sure, but it seems that a lot of the point of the Slate article was trying to decide what is "torture" and what is just normal (shitty) life in a military prison. It seems to me that a lot of their analysis was overly legalistic (they focused largely and whether something "caused permanent harm"), but it's interesting to try and decide if "Good Cop / Bad Cop" can ever be torture, or if making somebody stand up for more than four hours straight is "torture." Most reasonable people seem to agree that beating a prisoner can be torture, and that just asking nicely for information is not torture. The in-between seems to be the issue.

Maybe we need a better word to capture harmful techniques that don't involve direct physical abuse - "torture" has such a connotation of medieval racks and such that it's hard to think about being forced to stand on your feet as "torture" even though it's probably far from pleasant and there might be good arguments against its use for discipline and/or interrogation.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:06 AM on May 27, 2005

Torture is what other folks do to our people 'cause they hate freedom and America.
posted by nofundy at 5:12 AM on May 27, 2005

Torture starts immediately when you take away someone's freedom, as that ends his or her ability to make their own decisions.

That's why it is so important anyone arrested should be told their rights; so at least some insecurity about the future is taken away.

Never underestimate the psychological damage done by custody alone, for normal people.
posted by ijsbrand at 5:24 AM on May 27, 2005

I didn't realize that when my parents grounded me as a kid that they were actually torturing me. Please, let's keep things in perspective.
posted by Witty at 6:03 AM on May 27, 2005

when does systematic dehumanization become torture?
posted by amberglow at 7:00 AM on May 27, 2005

when does systematic dehumanization become torture?

Again, it's such a loaded word. No doubt some of what happened at Gitmo and/or Abu Ghraib falls in anybody's definition of torture. But is calling people by their number torture? Then bootcamp is technically "torture" by that standard.

Not trying to pick a fight, just saying.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 7:04 AM on May 27, 2005

thedevildancedlightly writes "A related update to the earlier Gitmo post: 'Prisoner Recants Quran-Desecration Claims'. Hard to know what's real and what's not these days, but interesting development."

You're suggesting the prisoner was tortured until he recanted?
posted by orthogonality at 8:54 AM on May 27, 2005

You're suggesting the prisoner was tortured until he recanted?

It'd be a little ironic if they beat him with a Qu'ran (it's a pretty heavy book) until he recanted, now wouldn't it?

Or the easier explanation is just that he told the story in the hopes of Amnesty getting him out of mosquito-infested Gitmo and it didn't work out so well.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 9:23 AM on May 27, 2005

Torture starts immediately when you take away someone's freedom, as that ends his or her ability to make their own decisions.

Oh, like marriage.
posted by The Deej at 7:40 AM on May 28, 2005

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