The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Yes, Torture is Counterproductive….and a Stain on America’s Reputation

Posted by progressivethink on April 23, 2009

There has been a massive uproar in the past few weeks regarding the release of Justice Department memos detailing the means used for interrogations of terrorist suspects.  This is a touchy subject for all, primarily because of the constant balancing test we need to strike in this country between pragmatic security concerns and the morals, ideals and civil liberties our country was built upon.  Too often this country has in the past ignored its founding principles; this is the true essence of being un-American.  Often these principles are discarded in a time of threat, however looking back they have always been an overreaction to current events, ultimately to be regretted by future generations.  Notable past examples of this include the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during WW2, jailing of protesters during the First World War (Socialists/Anarchists) all the way back to the Alien & Sedition Acts.  This current period of torture in the post 9/11 landscape has once again set us against our morals and founding principles.  I don’t care what anybody says – if you are tying someone to a board and simulating drowning — then there is no doubt this is torture, even if it leaves no physical marks on the victim.  It’s time America puts this behind us, as President Obama has indicated he will.  The people who wrote the legal opinions who contorted the law into supporting these actions should be prosecuted.  What people don’t realize is how often the law is used to justify the unjustifiable.  The genocide perpetrated by the Nazi Reich was orchestrated through the legal justifications of lawyers.  So was the Bosnian genocide. Today’s attorneys have a moral and professional duty to prevent the legal system from being used to justify such actions.  As such, the Congress should establish a panel to investigate these attorneys for violations of the Professional Responsibility Code.

But what about our security?  Doesn’t that override these petty concerns of civil liberties?  This is the speech often being preached by people such as Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh.  These arguments are inherently flawed.  In fact, this type of torture is likely to be counterproductive.  Torture is painful.  When people are being tortured they will tell you anything you want to hear in order to get you to stop.  As such the information is not particularly reliable.  A much more reliable route is using leverage (such as protecting the person’s family from repercussions).

A few months ago, I met a friend of a friend who was an Army interrogator in Iraq.  He worked for military intelligence, and actually was based at Abu Ghraib (apparently way after the incidents there)  I had to know if these tactics were really necessary, and produced vital information, so I asked him about them.  He told me what worked best was being friendly with informants, treating them as an equal and guaranteeing protection for their family.  He said that most informants would then be willing to cooperate after these sessions.

Now i’m not arguing that terrorist suspects are necessarily going to bend to kindness, that’s not very likely.  I am however arguing that violating our country’s 300 year old moral values is a lot more damaging long term than any short term gains achieved by using these techniques.  I wasn’t totally sure of this.. perhaps this interrogation method had prevented imminent terrorist attacks, Jack Bauer/24 style.  However this new article in the NY Times today clearly contradicts that belief and argument. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent, was intimately involved in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who I believe is one of the individuals that Cheney and Rove indicated had provided valuable information regarding terrorist attacks due to the new torture tactics.  Soufan debunks the unknown here, by pointing out how these tactics had the possibility of backfiring on the United States, along with the loss of our mantle as the world’s guardian of Human Rights. Soufan further claims that this information that extracted from Zubaydah could have been achieved in other ways.

Due to these revelations on the part of Soufan and other interrogators (most of whom appear to be against the tactics) I am glad the Obama administration has brought this stain on America’s reputation to light.  Release of these memos will allow the new administration, and the American people to regain their rightful role as a moral leader in the world once again.  That is, as long as we take action against the lawyers authorizing these gross breaches of human rights.


6 Responses to “Yes, Torture is Counterproductive….and a Stain on America’s Reputation”

  1. StampedBlue said

    Release of these memos does absolutely nothing except rub the details of these horrifying tactics all over every one of us. Admitting that you shit your pants a few years ago and describing in detail the mess that exists in your underwear does nothing when everyone can already smell it all over you, is disgusted and has talked about you and your vile behavior for years.

    I see this only as a Snob / “Im better than you” move by Obama. Nothing else.

  2. really Stamped? Part of eliminating the possibility that this type of abuse resumes is to get it all out into the open and to generate some push for reform. its important to acknowledge the full culpability of those involved. the people who advocated and carried out the torture need to own all of it and they dont get a pass simply because it makes us look bad. this isnt a let bygones be bygones issue. part of regaining respect after shitting your pants is showing people your not still covered in it. to do that you need to show the extent of the damage and the full clean up.

  3. StampedBlue said

    The government’s mistakes do not have to be a source of infotainment for the world. The details of this deserve at the very least a normal level of privacy and confidentiality.

  4. YoYoMa said

    I think we can look at this whole issue of torture, etc as follows. Republicans didn’t mind lambasting McGwire, Canseco, and Palmiero for possibly using illegal drugs to improve their ability to play baseball, but are quick to lash out when others seek to lambaste them for using illegal methods to improve their ability to gather information. While the use of performance enhancing drugs doesn’t necessarily rise to level of the use of torture, I think both embody the idea of using unethical methods to secure personal interests. In other words, just because it may have worked, doesn’t make it right. Like the use of steroids in baseball, the use of torture in interrogations destroys the integrity of the “game”.

  5. droppinknowledge said

    Guys at my high school used to torture terrorists for useful information all the time. It was no big deal.

  6. Sam Goble said

    The conservative furor is whether there are more memos or info which detail the effectiveness of the tactics, whether they are relevant, and why haven’t they been released in this new era of transparency?

    If we now stand alone upon a high perch above torture (and yes, we are alone–everyone else tortures—we just admitted it), we should at least acknowledge what, if anything, we are giving up in results.

    I don’t like torture, but I dislike political grandstanding even more. This was ruefully political and devisive. Obama is smart enough to have a good enough reason, I just don’t see it.

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