The Point of Torture is Torture

There is a progressive argument that since torture is wrong, we need not bother to argue that it does not work. In fact, both arguments are necessary and crucial, much as it’s crucial to argue that racism is both stupid and unfair. Torture is wrong AND it does not work.

Torture makes the victim supply answers that stop the torture; these don’t have to be true answers. John McCain gave up the Green Bay Packers starting lineup instead of his squadron mates. It wasn’t because he’d endured some special training, but because he wanted the torture to stop. Women who confessed to being witches in the Middle Ages weren’t really Satan’s acolytes, either, but victims who wanted the torture to stop.

Now-Senator McCain also “confessed” to being, as quoted by his captors, “a black air pirate.” This is not a common English phrase. It is the torturer’s language coming from his victim’s mouth. Torture does not produce intelligence; it is political violence, the act of the powerful abusing the powerless. The point of torture is torture

As it happens, Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have been conducting a forensic examination of Bush-era documents — and like good scientists, they have been trying to prove the opposite of their hypothesis. After three years of digging for evidence that enhanced interrogation techniques torture “worked,” they have apparently found no such evidence:

People familiar with the inquiry said committee investigators, who have been poring over records from the administration of President George W. Bush, believe they do not substantiate claims by some Bush supporters that the harsh interrogations led to counter-terrorism coups.

The backers of such techniques, which include “water-boarding,” sleep deprivation and other practices critics call torture, maintain they have led to the disruption of major terror plots and the capture of al Qaeda leaders.

One official said investigators found “no evidence” such enhanced interrogations played “any significant role” in the years-long intelligence operations which led to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden last May by U.S. Navy SEALs.

The historical revision of torture is an important agenda item to the right. The maintenance of a happy cognitive dissonance is vital to the political mind of the believer-base Republican — that is, someone who most likely appears before an image of the crucifixion every week. How’d that torture thing work out for Jesus?

Better yet, look at how martyrdom became a cult on its own. Look how the church benefited from its martyrs. Torture produces the opposite of “results” because it’s the opposite of interrogation. Information comes from building a rapport with the detainee; it doesn’t come from binding, blinding, drugging, transporting, starving, exposing, and otherwise humiliating them prior to beatings and waterboarding. You have to ask questions and listen, both of which are more easily done with a…wait for it…comfortable person.

The detainee can sit. It doesn’t have to be a comfortable chair, but they can sit in it. A detainee is not entitled to a soft bed, but they are entitled to sleep on one. “Jihad” is not a magic word that gives an al-Qaeda detainee superpowers to withstand torture, and jihadis don’t have special schools to learn torture survival techniques. Indeed, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and friends were training al-Qaeda to withstand torture in their torture chambers long before 9/11, and what they endured there was worse than anything the CIA felt capable of doing.

Jose Rodriguez, former CIA Director of the Clandestine Service, has a different hypothesis. Almost one year ago he claimed that torture had provided information leading to the death of Osama bin Laden. Rodriguez has a new book coming out expanding on his erroneous premise, by the way. Reuters again:

“We made some al-Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days,” Rodriguez says in an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” that will air on Sunday, April 29. “I am very secure in what we did and am very confident that what we did saved American lives.”

Discomfort has a limited return in terms of information. In fact, “stressing” someone by duct taping them to a bunk bed makes no sense as an interrogation technique. The most telling fact about the photos from Abu Ghraib isn’t what was Standard Operating Procedure, but the fact that detainees were being mistreated without any interrogation going on.

The point of torture is torture.

If Democrats cannot find evidence that torture produced important information, then it is up to Republicans to find such evidence. It remains to be seen whether they will experience any kind of pressure to do so, however.

The Rodriguez hypothesis has no evidence but his own word, which I shall be happy to read alongside the senators’ report. We’ll test the Osborne hypothesis that the Bushies confused meanness with effectiveness and stained the honor of the nation for no damn good reason.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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