Amazing. After being a dormant issue for the last year, the issue of torture has raised its ugly head again. Not only did we have the ignominious news that James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen joined Jay Bybee as LDS members who contributed to the policy of torture and shamed our faith. We now have a report from The New York Times that at the very same time that Congress was writing a law banning such practices, the Justice Department under newly confirmed Alberto Gonzalez surreptitiously issued a statement endorsing the use of torture in CIA interrogations.
While contemptible, the news is hardly surprising. As I outlined in my original post on torture, the administration’s disavowals of torture following the news of Abu Ghraib were insincere—and it was then White House counsel Gonzalez who had rationalized away the Geneva Conventions on behalf of the administration. When Congress passed the (anti)torture bill, the President brazenly added a signing statement virtually announcing his intention to continue to utilize torture.
While I’ve discussed the fact that there is absolutely no justification for the use of torture from a LDS or Christian perspective, there are plenty of people around the nation who have defended the practice on theoretical pragmatic grounds. If it will save lives, what’s a few broken fingers on an (possible) terrorist? Idealist ethics are meaningless while the cliche time bomb is ticking—or so they claim. They find it acceptable to compromise principle for expediency.
Very well: lets examine the practicality of torture. Can we foil terrorist plots by torturing suspected terrorists, eliminate their cells by coercing confessions of suspected terrorists through “enhanced” interrogation? Most evidence suggests not—Jack Bauer’s astounding success excepted.
It has become widely accepted in the criminal justice field that harsh interrogation techniques are more likely to result in false confessions than meaningful information, as in the case of Michael Crowe, and of dozens of wrongfully convicted suspects in Chicago under police commander Jon Burge. When faced with physical or mental torture, the victim typically provides what he feels his interrogators want to hear, rather than truth. It seems foolish to believe that torture could be more effective in a military setting than in criminal investigations.
Experts commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board seem to have seconded that conclusion. They determined that the “enhanced” interrogation techniques used in the administration’s so-called War on Terror are “outmoded, amateurish, and unreliable.” West Point dean and Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan and FBI interrogation expert Navarro both insist that torture is simply not effective, especially when dealing with radical Muslims.
In other words, to excuse torture techniques on practical security grounds is ignorant and misguided. This administration has, consistent with their usual M.O, chosen a course of action which is not only ineffective, but counterproductive. They are willing to sell the nation’s virtue for fool’s gold. Torture is less likely to result in valuable data, has eroded world opinion, and provides yet another point of contention for terrorist recruiters to use against our nation. Hardly pragmatic.
The only practical aspect of the administration’s de facto acceptance of torture is the political aspect. It appeals to their neoconservative political base: that segment of our population which prefers to see this conflict as an existential threat, a showdown against evil in which we must pull no punches to triumph. This constituency is drawn to the tough talk of this president and the strong stand against terrorists which the “enhanced” interrogation represents.
That sort of pragmatism is one which our nation can do without.
This does not mean that there interrogation itself is futile. Hanns Joachim Scharff interrogated quite effectively in WWII. The most successful of the German army’s interrogators, Scharff was so highly respected for his skill that he was invited speak to U.S. military officials after the war. His tools? Patience, respect, and dignity. By creating an environment in which his “victims” felt safe and relaxed, and by engaging in long, friendly conversations, he was able to accumulate a great deal of operable information. The rapport-building techniques he modeled and discussed provide the framework for F.B.I. interrogation methods to this day.
And just think, we wouldn’t have to betray our principles in support of those proven tactics. Too bad this administration and their enablers (especially the LDS ones) didn’t consider that.