Saturday, April 28, 2007

"We Do Not Torture"

The United States was instrumental in helping to establish international rules prohibiting torture. What are the implications if the United States is violating these rules? How much worse is it if we claim to not be violating these rules simply through semantic slight of hand?

A recent post by Richard Warnick on OneUtah comments on the 60 minutes interview with former CIA director George Tenet. I watched the preview segments on their site. It was interesting that, three times, Mr. Tenet adamantly said "We do not torture." I have seen some allegations in the news about torture, although I will admit that I haven't looked very hard, especially while I was in the military (I retired in December 2006). Richard's comments inspired me to start looking a little harder. Another post on OneUtah by Deanna Taylor was the one that got me thinking: if the military really is recruiting by exposing our youth to the gory 'glories' of American armaments, why wouldn't there be a least some who think that it's okay to torture non-Americans.

I came across a book in the Brigham Young University library entitled Oath Betrayed, and authored by Steven H. Miles, M.D. I am about half finished with the book as I write. I am reserving full judgment until I find more facts, but if what Dr. Miles alleges is true, far more individuals should have been punished with far more stringent sentences, and the Bush administration and America have much for which to be embarrassed.

The United States was instrumental in establishing international rules requiring that under no circumstances can governments or their agents engage in torture for any reason. The Geneva Convention makes it clear that all individuals are to be regarded this courtesy, not simply those clearly representing nations at war with the United States, but everyone else as well. They can be held as enemy prisoners of war, but under all circumstances they must be treated humanely.

Simply because other nations have engaged in and continue to engage in torture does not give the US any permission to engage in the same practice. If the United States is being held to a higher standard in this regard, then so be it. I am proud that we would be held to such a standard. When we violate the standard, our attempts to spread the blessings of liberty around the globe ring much less than hollow.

Very likely contrary to what many believe, torture appears not to have been limited to just a handful of personnel at the Abu Ghraib facility. Nor was it likely limited just to Abu Ghraib, nor even to Iraq. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the types of "interrogation tactics" used by US military (and non-military) personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay:

  • Withholding food
  • Exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures
  • Bombardment with "music" and other loud noises
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Isolation for long periods of time
  • Forcing prisoners into stress positions (in at least some cases to include hanging them by their arms suspended behind their bodies)

If President Bush is not aware that these kinds of actions are occurring, he is not mentally fit to hold the office of President of the United States. If he is aware, he should be making every such offense public, he should be, as the chief executive, enforcing American and international law when it comes to prohibition of torture, and he should apologize to every person and their families to whom torture has happened.

Torture is in essentially all cases counterproductive. It presents the following problems:

1. Evidence garnered through torture are in all cases suspect, as very often those being tortured provide any sort of information (usually false) so that they can stop being tortured.

2. Torture is counterproductive, as it alienates the population the torturing agency was allegedly sent there to serve.

3. It harms those who commit it (with reactions similar to and often worse than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and the overall society that condones it.

4. It alienates those who under normal circumstances would come forward with helpful information.

5. It becomes a tool to punish those who are weak, regardless of their innocence, as well as

Feelings of confusion and hatred on the part of those tortured are exacerbated when medical personnel are present. Dr. Miles' research provides substantial evidence that in many cases such US personnel were on hand to observe such treatment and to periodically ensure that prisoners were still in good enough health to continue being "interrogated". In some cases their presence was not enough--prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba have died under such interrogation tactics. Sometimes their bodies were unceremoniously dumped at the local morgue, and in other cases their bodies were buried in close proximity to the prison. In such cases, family members were never apprised of the fate of their fathers and brothers.

Postscript: When the pictures of Abu Ghraib torture first became public knowledge, radio producer Rush Limbaugh defended the torturers by saying that they were blowing off steam and that kind of thing happened at a Madonna or Britney Spears concert. What an inane statement!

While viewing the Tenet preview segments on 60 Minutes, I also came across a segment regarding Joe Darby, whose revelation of images of torture began the revelations of some of what happened in Abu Ghraib. I salute him as a very brave American. Unfortunately, though, many of his townsfolk consider him a traitor to America. He has had to move from his boyhood hometown. Some of his family members even refuse to talk to him. While he did the right thing, they are a disgrace.


Anonymous said...

Now that the world knows what the USA does to captured enemy combatants (or even innocent people mistaken for combatants), we have lost the moral high ground for the forseeable future.

If Americans are taken prisoner (for example, Iran is believed to be holding an FBI agent), other countries will see no reason to be contrained by the Geneva Convention rules. Certainly the USA will be in no position to criticize. An important facet of the torture issue that deserves more attention.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

a segment regarding Joe Darby, whose revelation of images of torture began the revelations of some of what happened in Abu Ghraib.

I saw that segment. I have no problems with Joe Darby acting on his conscience. But what I do have a problem with is the media obsession over it (even though the military was already conducting investigations into this, and even released a statement about it to the media, months before the story broke with the photos on 60 Minutes). I'm not saying that attention should not have been made about it...but the amount of coverage (NYTimes with..what? 32 consecutive frontpage stories?!) damaged America and our war effort as much as the crime itself.

Frank Staheli said...


Thanks for the interesting historical insight. I'll have to do some more research. I was preparing at the time for another deployment to Iraq, and I wasn't really following the news in much detail then.

Anonymous said...

I watched George Tenet's interview on "60 Minutes." He adamantly denies that the CIA uses torture, but also admitted he's never watched a single interrogation. Not one.

In the Army, we used to say whatever is not inspected... is neglected.

Steven Miles said...

I am aware of the controversy over Oath Betrayed. Accordingly, I have posted 60,000 pages of declassified government documents to support every statement in Oath Betrayed and more. Take a look at