Friday, November 11, 2005

Torture: John Cole talks about torture today, specifically Israeli success going the other, being nice to detainess rathe than torturing them. Seems to work pretty well, John sums up this way:
As I said before, you don’t even have to care that torture runs counter to
international law and degrades any country that uses it. It also simply doesn’t
work. When it mostly yields useless information and has the pleasant side-effect
of hardening civilians against us to the point of creating warm and cozy local
environment for insurgents, it’s hard to imagine a good argument in
Pretty much the only way left to defend this administration’s bizarre
record on torture is to claim that they don’t do it. Good luck with that.

Quite some time ago I linked to this article in The Atlantic on torture and interrogation. It looks pretty deep into the success and failure of torture, of various degrees, and draws some pretty interesting, if not nice, conclusions. It's only available to subscribers, so here's the bit I excerpted then:
The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter.
Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against
humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even
a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who
protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it
generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate
U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for
American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also
smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.

I don't know if my agreement with that has changed over the last two years or not. I believe there are circumstances, when time is not on the interviewers side for instance, when the rules should be more lax than others. Outright torture? Why not? Iif Mohammed knows the secret code to defuse the bomb that goes off in ten minutes, and I know he's prepared to die without giving up the goods, I'll employ petty much whatever tactics I can think of to make him spill it. Psychological, physical, sexual whatever. Strip him naked and put him in a room with a horny Roseanne and a rabid pit bull if it will work. Does this bring us down to their level, do the terrorists win? Maybe, but it won't be much of a victory party.

I don't doubt that under less extreme circumstances better results can be gotten by more subtle means, including gaining the detainee's trust, making friends, showing him not all Jews, or whatever, are evil, etc. All good ideas and we should explore how to use those methods ahead of time so we're not faced with the cliched and sensationalized, but still worthy of consideration, example I give above. Better intelligence ahead of time, yada yada.

Most of the time circumstances won't be either desparate and extreme or "no big rush." In those cases, I think Bowden's distinction between torture and coercion is important and the drawing of that line is open to debate, and there are important reasons to not err too far to either side. But simply seeing a little more of one side or the other doesn't make soemone evil or naive.

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