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The wrong question - Peter Hentges

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October 19th, 2006


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12:54 pm - The wrong question
In a recent poll run by the BBC, "27,000 respondents in 25 countries were asked which position was closer to their own views:
  • Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights standards against torture.
  • Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives."
The second of those options should have read, "Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture even if it is applied to innocents arrested on suspicion of terrorism."

The results of the BBC survey are reported as "One-third support 'some torture.'" What those one-third of the respondents fail to realize is that torture as policy means that they, themselves, become possible subjects of that torture. Sure, if we could torture the "bad guys," many folks would be OK with putting the screws to them. The problem is that these "interrogation techniques" are being used on terrorism "suspects." Not convicted terrorists, notice, just those we think might be terrorists.

If you were arrested because you were suspected of being part of a terrorist plot you could be tortured in an effort to "save innocent lives." Your protests of innocence would sound the same to torturers whether or not they were true.
Current Mood: cynicaldisgusted
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[User Picture]
From:cakmpls
Date:October 19th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
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It seems so obvious, doesn't it?

But I have encountered intelligent people who think that "I didn't do anything, so I don't need a lawyer." Same thing--belief that law enforcers have some magic power to arrest/detain/torture only the bad guys.
[User Picture]
From:barondave
Date:October 19th, 2006 03:11 pm (UTC)
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Neither of those choices works for me (though I'm closer to the first). As usual, I'm sort of in the middle. Try these:

• Clear rules for the treatment of prisoners should be maintained to protect human rights and establish accountability for all captors.

• Terrorists may pose such an extreme threat that governments may, with oversight, use forceful measures to gain information about an immediate situation.

My general response to sphincter conservatives about torturing terrorists: "Okay, as long as we start with Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. They are traitors who have knowledge about who outed a CIA agent." I don't think I've changed any minds, but they tend to shut up...

I'm hardly in favor of torture (largely because it doesn't work), but I'm more afraid of some loose cannon just wailing away, thinking they're doing good, and being protected by slimy higher-ups. Getting information about terrorists is good. Becoming a terrorist is bad. For the US to practice state-sponsored terrorism means the terrorists have won.
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From:jbru
Date:October 19th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)
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Terrorists may pose such an extreme threat that governments may, with oversight, use forceful measures to gain information about an immediate situation.

I still come back to the question: would you be OK with these overseen, forceful measures being used on you (or another innocent) if you were wrongly picked up on suspicion of having that information?
[User Picture]
From:barondave
Date:October 19th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
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If the captors needed a warrant/official permission beforehand, the rules of conduct for "forceful measures" laid out according to some civilized restraints and the captors knew they would be held accountable afterwards... then yes. No, we shouldn't be the Inquisition. Yes, I think extracting information about an imminent threat grants some leeway.... but only some and certainly not the immoral guidelines that were just passed by the Republican-controlled Congress which Bush is certain to sign and then ignore by issuing a "signing statement".

We can't sink to the level of the terrorists or the terrorists will have won. On the other hand, I have no pity for mass murderers. There has to be a middle ground. I just don't trust the current crop of conservatives to understand that the issue is not all cut and dry. We're the Good Guys... I hope.
[User Picture]
From:jbru
Date:October 19th, 2006 08:17 pm (UTC)
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For me, pity for mass murderers doesn't enter into it. Torturing people simply shouldn't be done. Even in the "imminent threat" situation, the results are likely to be unreliable. Beyond that, however, there's the moral quandry of these techniques being used on innocent people and the very personal realization that they could be used on me.

The interesting thing to me is that, according to globalsecurity.org, the direct approach (that is, simply asking the questions you want answers to) is shown to have been 85-95% effective in WWII and 90-95% effective in Vietnam. They go on to detail a number of other interrogation techniques to employ in the other 5-10% of cases. See http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/policy/army/fm/fm34-52/app-h.htm (Appears to come from the Army Field Manual.)
[User Picture]
From:barondave
Date:October 19th, 2006 09:49 pm (UTC)
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Torturing people simply shouldn't be done.

Hence my emendation to "forceful measures".

...simply asking the questions you want answers to is shown to have been 85-95% effective in WWII and 90-95% effective in Vietnam...

Hence the need for oversight and making sure competent people are handling the case, not some asshole with carte blanc power. This is a serious, important, job that shouldn't be left to drunken frat boys (or the anal-retentive friends of drunken frat boys).

Aside: We're skirting the real issue: Torture not only doesn't work and will harm our citizens in he long run, it's no substitute for good intelligence and good detective work. We wouldn't be talking about this if we had competent liberal leadership at the top. Bush and co are asking the wrong questions (and coming up with the wrong answers) for purely political reasons: To appease the sphincter conservatives who were spanked too hard as a child (or worse). The shame of being a conservative has never been greater.
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From:dreamshark
Date:October 19th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC)
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The second of those options should have read, "Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture even if it is applied to innocents arrested on suspicion of terrorism."

Very well put.

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