Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Monday, August 24, 2009

You might be the bad guy if ...

You use "threats to kill one suspect's children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted." Sounds like Mobsters but, no, turns out its the CIA. Last I heard even some mobsters had a no women, no children policy.

Maybe its just threats, but it still seems like Chuck Norris needs to liberate some prisoners from America. After he's done, he'll take them back in time to the other America where that sort of thing was unthinkable. Where only they (the bad guys) did that kind of thing.


Republican Peter King responded to this issue in Politico and makes some strong points:

"When Holder was talking about being 'shocked' [before the report's release], I thought they were going to have cutting guys' fingers off or something — or that they actually used the power drill," he said.

"You're talking about threatening to kill a guy, threatening to attack his family, threatening to use an electric drill on him — but never doing it," King said. "You have that on the one hand — and on the other you have the [interrogator's] attempt to prevent thousands of Americans from being killed."

King is correct in that the threat of violence in interrogation is usually far more effective than actually performing it. Threats have the effect of letting the victim's imagination go overtime, which is usually more effective. Unfortunately, this type of interrogation can also be damaging and its impact over time -- especially years -- can be similar to being physically tortured. The concern is that threats of rape, murder, and power drills over time are just as damaging and represent a slippery slope. That an American soldier is making these threats is counter to notions of the United States as a beacon to humanity in a time of Rwandas and North Koreas of the world.

As the story has unfolded, it seems the prisoner abuses are only sounding more and more barbaric. Still, it seems King's views would be the same:

"They’ve declared war on the CIA. We should resist and fight back as hard as we can," he said. "It should be a scorched earth policy. ... This isn't just another policy. This goes to the heart of our national defense. We should do whatever we have to do."

This represents is an ugly dilemma, choosing between the possibility that 1,000s may die in some type of attack versus destroying a handful of individuals' lives. Victims of torture don't sleep at night even years after the initial trauma, and emotional torture and physical torture have similar effects. Its not difficult to find accounts of this as many dictatorships in Argentina and El Salvador left behind a destroyed populace of merely accused citizens. I'm sure they used the same rationale to torture prisoners: with this evil, we can prevent one greater.

We're all familiar with the idea of the idea of a ticking bomb, suggesting that torture would be acceptable in certain circumstances. While some call this a red herring, it doesn't change the fact that harsh interrogation can be torture, especially over prolonged periods. If based on accusation or possibility of future harm, this is not a legal system and instead a description for a mad playground operated by thugs and masochists. We know these people are the bad guys not because they have been convicted, but from classified information that we won't know for 20+ years. Imagine the people defending the program are wearing El Salvador uniforms and suddenly you won't want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously, the answer cannot be "don't interrogate anyone," but should include an awareness that we are still the good guys and good guys don't cheat the difficult process of possible bad guys being innocent until proven guilty. If we throw out the rights of those people, you might one day be confused for one of those people. The way to do that is with accountability and transparency; when interrogation is done outside the rule of law and without consequence to those who break the law, that's a recipe for another kind of human disaster, one that dissolves the pride of what it is to be American.

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