Jeff Goldstein started an interesting debate to determine what exactly constitutes torture.
Even now, we hear that
Even now, we hear that
One important qualifier you missed – that definition only applies to a person who is in captivity. On the battlefield, for example, the infliction of lasting injury is generally the *goal*. Just want to make sure nobody jumps on that loophole.
That said, I don’t think your definition is great even with that qualifier. Mostly, the trouble is in making head or tails of the phrase “equivalent physical pain” – what does that mean? I’m sure that if you did everything nicely and under anasthesia, several severe injuries can be done painlessly, whereas there’s a lot of painful things that get done quite legitimately(some medical procedures would qualify, I’m sure).
I don’t have a good answer here – I can’t think of a definition that doesn’t have several obvious faults of its own. I imagine this is one of those thoings that can only be solved by piling on the legalese. That said, yours is at least a reasonable first effort at it.
I’m scratching my head to come up with a simple, workable definition of torture.
I may be wrong, but I think that’s largely Jeff’s point.
“Torture and humiliation” is any activity done by our side during the legal incarceration of Enemy combatants during wartime.
“Righteous indignation and anger at the imperialist world” is what their side does our people when they are captured and beheaded.
To my knowledge, the Al-queda monsters we are fighting are under no illusions as to legality or standards. We however are, and routinely undergo review to meet these standards, yet discussions of torture almost never acknowledge the type of enemy we are fighting.
For example, in our island campaign in the pacific, our soldiers used flamethrowers and napalm to remove enemy soldiers from caves and bunkers. On the island of Okinawa which had over 100,000 Japanese soldiers,fewer than 300 were captured alive. Does this make the case that ‘America was practicing genocide against the Japanese? or perhaps, does it say a great deal about the nature of the people we were fighting against during wartime?
The false argument about “Genocide” is also true of our current conundrum over “torture”. Its an argument made out of context.
Discussions about “torture” in the war on terror fall into the same context swamp as discussions about capital punishment. One side feels that it is societies fault for placing the individual in the position where the crime is to be committed in the first place -ergo its society to blame and not the criminal. The other feels that once caught anything that happens to the criminal is simply justice provided by a different path.
My own opinion is that the whole discussion of torture is designed to do only one thing, and its the one thing that the jihadists themselves havent been able to do, and that is to put the west on the defensive.
Any attempt by the west to combat the jihadists is met with the same indignation as the left has for what is called “torture”. For example, last week it was the left discovering to their horror that “white phosphorus” has been used in battle, their reaction was as if it was some exotic thing designed only to kill civilians when anyone with any military background at all will tell you that WP as common as sidearms in a combat arena. I have heard similar complaints about the use of 50 caliber machine guns and artillery in “cities packed with civilians”. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to “finding the truth about the civilian body count in Iraq”, as if the billions of dollars of weapons systems never happened and we still relied on vietnam style carpet bombing to carry out war.
In the face of routine videos showing the utmost in surgical strikes, this seems asinine on the face of it, as does the propped up and idiodic discussion of torture in todays popular culture.
My case is simply this -
No armed military force in world history has ever done as much to provide and protect for those captured during wartime as the American military forces, yet the center of the discussion is the whisper campaign about “torture”. There is no better example anywhere at any time for how enemy combatants are treated than that of the example set by the US Military forces, yet this is not the tone and tenor of the discussion.
The turth is that being captured by the “other side” in a conflict has consequences. Interrogation is a central part of any intelligence gathering organization of any side in any battle or war. It is essential to get good information from those people who have been captured to save not only lives on “our side”, but “their side” as well.
Interrogations will go on during wars. People in this position will be uncomfortable, they will on occasion be placed into conditions that will make them feel that their very life is at stake. In context of what is going on that caused them to be captured in the first place, this seems natural and to be expected, but if you are of the opinion that the war itself is unnatural and unjustified and wrong, then yes, this type of thing would appear to you to be an injustice.
However,if you are of the opinion that such things should not occur or that we should not do such things under any circumstances,/i> then I simply cant help you and no rational argument I can give you can bring you back into the reality in which we actually live. You simply choose to live in a world that does not exist in any context and you are answering the question of “torture” from the same perspective of a person who says we should never kill animals, while eating a triple cheeseburger at Wendys.
I would be willing to bet that the condtions of any downtown jail in any city ( lets say Cook County Jail in Chicago for example) meet the conditions of what is called “torture” and would meet the standards of indignation for the left.
Ok, so where do I stand on torture? Simply put – If it helps the war effort, I’m all for it, if not, then I’m against it. We are under no obligation to take prisoners of combatant civilians in a war zone, we are well within our rights to simply and summarily execute those captured. Being held as a prisoner by our armed forces is a privlege extended only to those who wish to accept our generous hospitality.
It all comes down to one man’s definition of a word. One man’s gruel is another man’s morning oatmeal. One man’s sweatshop is another man’s entry level position. Although I don’t want to stoop to the level of Chris Matthews with the ‘different perspective’ rhetoric.
I think it is worth noting that al-qaeda could give a crap about our legal system and laws. They only want to kill and mame innocent people. They have gone beyond any sort of ‘rules’ we have had for wars in the past. I think we are due a kitchen pass now and then for some scumbag that has info that could save thousands of lives.
I deem it torture of the worst sort to be forced to make nice and smile at the dinner table with an excruciating leftist who believes he has an absolutely guaranteed right to inflict his “catechism of delusions
“I think it is worth noting that al-qaeda could give a crap about our legal system and laws.”
That’s no reason for us to not care.
What most proponents of anti-torture legislation refuse to say is what is torture. They want to accept the European view that any coercion is torture. Once captured a person is entitled to all the rights of a common criminal. No talking without a lawyer. In Iraq they now release someone within three days if they do not find anything linking that person to terrorist/insurgent activity. With our already strict guidelines thes people say nothing and we get nothing. They leave and go back to fighting. It is not for being the US being to brutish that it is alleged that 60 % of the relesed Guantanamo detainees go strainght back to terrorism.
My utilitarian definition of torture:
Any act perpetrated upon someone in our power that if committed upon one of *our soldiers* in the power of our enemies would prompt cries of outrage from us is torture.
We cannot claim to have the moral high ground if we are willing to perpetrate acts that we condemn others for committing.
I think both you and Jeff are arguing this point from the wrong end of the spectrum, having unwittingly fallen prey to the left’s framing of the argument. It’s not “what” is torture, but “who” is exempt from protection from being tortured.
There is a line that can be crossed where you opt out of the protections of civil society.
As I noted on Goldstein’s blog: Is torture always wrong? No. That solve the debate?
I keep having nightmares that I am torturing Andrew Sullivan. The scary part is not that he is enjoying it, but that I am too!
Jeff Goldstein gets to the heart of the matter on the subject of torture:
Jeff Goldstein gets to the heart of the matter on the subject of torture:[M]y argument with regard to coercive interrogation is that we should not take anything off the table, if only so that our enemies can
How about anything that is likely to cause permanent physical injury.
Torture is the unnecessary or sadistic application of pain (physiological or psychological). It should never be acceptable due to its nature as unnecessary.
What we need to define is what techniques, even purposefully applied, are unacceptable. We must also discern between the physiological and the psychological. Here’s my 2pence on what’s unacceptable:
Physiological – No significant intentional tissue damage (a small dime-sized bruise on the shoulder from being handled is in the insignificant range, a cut from falling from a chair in fear is unintentional).
No purposeful stimulation, by any means, of fast (Adelta) nerve fibers (think of the sharp pain of a cut or a pinch). Procedures resulting in stimulation of slow (C) nerve fibers (think sore muscle pain) would be acceptable, as long as no tissue damage is occurring (ex. stress position, as long as it’s not to the point of joint/muscle damage).
Temperature is an issue both in skin contact and environment. For skin contact, anything below 45C not causing tissue damage is acceptable (above 45C, sensation is out of the range of heat fibers and carried by fast pain fibers mentioned above).
For environment, anything goes as long as it does not result in systemic damage (heat stroke, hypothermia). Humidity, wind chill, exposure and other variables obviously come into play here, but I think the end result is the best way to define.
Asphyxiation/hypoxia is a difficult area, but I don’t think it should dismissed completely. Strangling, ligature, and water submersion, if not causing tissue damage outright, come with too high a risk of death to be allowed. That said, there are quantifiable ways of alterring blood O2/CO2 ratio enough to induce panic attacks in some individuals without risking injury or death. This should be on the table in a controlled environment.
Psychological – here I have a hard time taking anything off the table, as long as no physiological violations occur to anyone. Obviously, we tie our hands somewhat in globally telegraphing our limits, but such is the cost of striving towards a free and open society.
The issue of psychological/pharmalogical manipulations is one I haven’t fully explored. I suppose I don’t see a real problem as long as the risk of complication or permanent effect is minimal. I’ve got to spend some more to time on the specifics.
Having the moral high ground doesn’t concern me. Winning does. If the war effort is helped by torture, then have at it. If it isn’t, why bother. (Stolen from Frank Martin).
Our enemies have an incredible will to win, but they lack the means. We obviously have the means to win, but lack the will. In this scenario such as it is, it is advantage terrorist.
The day will come when we will have to grow a pair and defeat these bastards, no matter who is in the way. The longer we keep hamstringing ourselves with “feelings”, the more brutal this will become in the end.
Torture is in the eye of the beholder. If I were put in solitary confinement for 24 hours, I would wake up the next day rested and relaxed (using the pictures I have seen from Gitmo). There are people I have met who would be bouncing off the walls in 30 minutes under the same conditions, probably much rather be strapped in a chair with a bright light so long as you listened to thier answers. My opion is defining torture is chasing will-o-wisps.
I’ll repeat my question from another thread (yet to be answered):
The government (though an unfortunate series of unlikely errors) has detained you and is absolutely convinced that despite your clever cover as an internet hawk, that you actually have valuable information concerning an imminent terror attack. You tell them the absolute truth (you know nothing! nothing!) You offer them full cooperation in figuring out why they’ve made this mistake and they don’t believe you and think they have to get the information … soon.
What do you want them to be able to do to you?
I weighed in on Jeff’s site yesterday with a definition of torture that is roughly the same as Aaron’s:
Likely to result in lasting physical injury. Except I tossed in “likely to result in lasting psychological injury” too.
I figure, no mater how unpleasant it is, if, when it’s over, it’s over; if when the interrogators are done, the person can go on to live a normal life (I mean in body, not necessarily in society), then it’s not torture.
I’ve outlined what I find acceptable with just such a situation in mind. Your question has now been answered.
chthus, thank you
Well, I would limit torture to anything you can do with a skinning knife, blow torch, hatchet and a pair of vice grip pliers. Anything beyond that would be cruel and unusual
Michael Farris –
Why should we consider it necessary to treat US Citizens the same as enemy combatants captured on the field of battle? It’s not like there is a fragile distinction here.
johnny walker, jose padilla
Do you have any evidence whatever that Walker or Padilla have been tortured? What an incredibly self-serving line of reasoning you’ve taken there.
stop misunderstanding on purpose, i was giving those two as examples of ‘enemy combatants’ (one in fact captured in the ‘field of battle’) who are also american citizens.
ftr: I doubt very much if walker was tortured, but who knows about padilla?
I find reading Andrew Sullivan to be torture.
Recycling and expanding on a not-terribly-insightful comment I’ve made before:
I want there to be certain things that we will not do, certain lines we as a society will not cross and will not order others to cross.
I do not want the terrorists to know what they are, and I would prefer that the terrorists not be aware that any such boundaries exist.
Rule out the techiques that the most abolitionist among us would define as torture (sleep-deprivation, loud music, keeping the room too cold or too hot), and sooner or later innocent people will die because we failed to get information we could have gotten from terrorists.
Trust our guys to do what’s right, and adopt a blanket, “Do what you gotta do, but God help you if you’re wrong”, and most of the time I’d bet they’ll do right. But there will be abuses, and there will be honest mistakes that lead to horrible injustices we’ll all be rightly appalled by.
I don’t pretend this is helpful. I guess I’m getting at my impatience with the folks (mostly on the zero-tolerance side; lot of that over among Jeff G’s critics) whose attitude is, “It’s so obvious to anyone with any brains and moral sense that the correct position is….”
Whatever – I’m sure the courts will decide in the end, anyway.
I’m not sure a court is competent to decide whether you’re a limp-wristed pinko or a sadistic crytpo-fascist.
How about a crypto-limpic pinkist?
On Torture, follow-up
I wanted to highlight a couple of comments from yesterday's mostly reasoned thread on defining "torture," because taken together I think they best capture what I've been getting it. First, here's Jeff Medcalf, who addresses …
I’m no expert or even trained in torture but I would think that it would include psychological methods. It’s been years since I read it but the rats in the cage in 1984 seemed pretty torturous. I keep hearing people say that torture is ineffective and wonder why it has been so damn popular for all these years. Is it just fun then?
I do know that a whole lot of citizens of the Soviet Union and China were somehow convinced to cooperate in show trials so that they could be summarily executed for crimes they never committed so if this wasn’t accomplished through torture, then we need to get some of whatever it was that got those results.
Frankly I have no problem with torturing somebody if they are holding information that threatens lives or our national security. Just keep it quiet.
But nowadays I have no faith in the CIA to actually be able to keep secrets so at this point I’m stumped.
Otherwise, I’d be breaking out the pig fat.
Brutally, sadistically and maniacally yours,
IMHO michael farris makes a very important distinction. I’m all for the WOT, and waging it full intensity, with all that entails. But denying US citizens basic rights comes very close to the steep part of the slippery slope. Therefore the brightline in my mind is no government is allowed to torture it’s own citizens. There is no control or balance if the police can snatch you up and do whatever they wish to you for whatever reason.
On the field of battle however, all bets are off. You choose to take up arms against me/my country, you’ve accepted the risk of getting shot, maimed, et cetera. Frankly, getting one’s genitalia electrocuted, while infinitely sucktacular, is still preferable to being coarsely dismembered by a mine or mortar shell and left to bleed out. It’s also actually more objectively fair since, as long as it isn’t capricious and punitive, torture is far more discriminating of targets and proportionate than general combat.
War is a cruel business. The best comment here is Texican’s, because it states the essential truth; High moral ground means nothing outside of theory. We will never be moral enough for everyone, so where do you draw the line? What tactics do you take off the table in hopes of appeasing… who exactly? You draw the line at effectiveness of the tatic. You do whatever allows you to stop killing people the quickest. Otherwise, “high moral ground” is a fancy way of saying “wasting people’s lives”.
I have no idea what torture is — pliers, blowtorches, whatever. But I do know what “Torture” is.
“Torture” is a new Memetic Precision Weapon, delivered by both Jihadis and their enablers, designed to defeat the will of civilized people by diverting their civilized instincts to tie themselves up in knots of self-doubt and paralysis.
How it’s used: In the natural progression of discussing
the “Torture” meme has enabled anti-Western elements to move the discourse from the desirable #1, passing rapidly over the undesirable #2, and directly on to the desirable #3 and 4, to linger as long as possible.
Much like “Chickenhawk (2003),” “Torture (2005)” has been shown to cause even the smartest, well-intentioned hawks at best to spend substantial time defining and justifying (e.g. Stephen Green) or at worst questioning and denigrating (e.g. Andrew Sullivan). It is an extremely hazardous MPW and should be handled and defused only by trained Memetic Bomb Disposal personnel.
Thank you and Think Safe.
Torture is the infliction of pain or injury on a victim out of proportion to the pain or injury the victim has caused or can prevent.
Aren’t we most concerned, after all, with proportionality when we bring up the ticking nuke scenario, or when we debate the wisdom of wrapping Islamonutsies in the Israeli flag?
I’m a little nervous about “has caused”, but the definition should do as a start.
“we find ourselves in need of a legal definition of torture”
Oh, but you’re wrong, Stephen. As I pointed out here, torture is legally defined in 18 USC 2340.
Torture is an action specifically intended to cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” Severe mental suffering is further specified as “prolonged mental harm” resulting from a specific set of actions. The only real basis upon which one may question the legal definition is on the topic of what constitutes “severe physical pain or suffering.”
bb you can torture people into telling you whatever you want to hear but the question is can you torture people into giving accurate information on things that you dont know.
Torture is other people.
And Phil Collins.
Yes, Phil Collins is also torture.
Honestly curious. Is a broken leg permanent enough to qualify? What about a broken finger? A knuckle? A broken jaw? How serious does the permanent damage have to be? And do you mean permanent with the most advanced medical care, or permanent if the person is dumped off the back of a truck and left to heal on his own? What about rape?
Jack’s definition is the truest. If we’d be outraged at pictures of it being done to our soldiers and marines, then we shouldn’t be doing it.
To those who think torture produces partially, largely or entirely unreliable information – I guess you just can’t grasp the concept of simultaneously experienced prolonged terror and agony.
I know it must sound like an ingenious loophole to avoid torture by babbling random facts to make it sound like you’re complying, but I’m afraid you’d be in for a very harsh awakening God forbid you should ever need to put that little trick to the test.
I believe the basic idea is to repeatedly reduce you to an animal state, asking the same questions each time, comparing notes on your answers and ratcheting the pain leveled for any inconsistencies – unless you’re a leper, your nerves will ensure that sooner or later the creative babbling stops and the confessions start.
You might make some headway with a combination of martyr-like pain resistance and a carefully scripted fake cover, but a competent torturer would generally find ways of exposing the gaps in said cover, and it would be downhill from there.
TO: Stephen Green
RE: Where’s Herbert When We REALLY Need Him?
“Torture is the infliction of lasting physical injury, or the infliction of equivalent physical pain.” — Stephen Green
Put your hand in the box.
I still don’t see the slippery slope you seem to be indicating exists. US Citizens are (and should be) granted special rights and considerations where the US Govt. is concerned. As a US citizen I expect these rights and considerations, but I’m not concerned when the US Govt. does not give them to foreign combatants. The failure of the US Govt. to grant the consideration it gives to citizens to non-citizens captured in a war is a non-sequitur. The rights of both US Citizens and foreign combatants, as human beings, to humane treatment must be ensured (ie, “torture,” whatever that is, is inhumane), but it does not follow that we must ensure the same rights to foreign combatants and US Citizens in any way beyond that.
I think the best point here is that if we don’t want our people treated that way, we should not treat our captured enemy that way.
Remember the cries of outrage at seeing the bruised faces of captured pilots?
TO: Mike Rentner
RE: How They Treat OUR People
“I think the best point here is that if we don’t want our people treated that way, we should not treat our captured enemy that way.” — Mike Rentner
We take their people we capture to a tropical paradise.
They send our people to eternal paradise, courtesy of a dull knife.
Maybe we should adopt their approach and be done with all this silly ‘discussion’?
P.S. Our humane treatment of their people doesn’t seem to have any affect on the way their people treat our people.
Can you get a clue?
From an earlier post, “Torture is the unnecessary or sadistic application of pain (physiological or psychological). It should never be acceptable due to its nature as unnecessary.”
Necessity might be one key. Doing it to extract information versus doing it just for the fun of it.
Witness the jihadist terroroists beheading helpless captives of no military value, but out of sheer hatred and sadistic glee?
That being said, I think that US citizens should be protected by the provisions of our constitution, but that that should not extend to foreign combatants.
Especially foreign combatants who mix with the civilian population and prey upon that same population with the same or greater abandon abandon as they do on military targets.
An important distinction. These are not soldiers fighting conventionally against another armed force, they deliberately use terrorism against unarmed civilians in order to terrorize the population.
Perhaps instead of arguing what does or does not constitute torture per se, maybe we should look at who we are fighting and ask if they deserve any consideration.
In my opinion, these animals, by their behavior, do not.
David March above. I have been tortured in the same manner, except that I had to leave my own dinner table & house to survive my wife’s friend. You have my vote. We have gone too far in the feely touchy department.
In torture during the WOT, the ends justify the means. If you get the info you want, its OK. If you don’t, shame on you and enjoy your stay at the farm.
I think Jack above may have had it right, if somewhat backward.
Anything they do to ours, we should be able to do to theirs. And since they think it’s OK to cut the heads off of live people, I think that just about ends the “debate” on torture, dontcha think, Jack?
“Anything they do to ours, we should be able to do to theirs.” — RightNumberOne
I disagree. We’re better than killing them by sawing their heads off with a dull knife in front of video cameras.
As I’ve reported oft enough, I think we should make them serve US in prison for the rest of their natural life.
The service to be performed in the nature of raising pigs.
Their meals may or may not contain pork products.
When they die of natural causes, their carcass is fed to the pigs they raised.
It’s a ‘kinder-gentler’ approach to the Pershing method.
P.S. We could video the feeding of the carcasses to the pigs, just to prove we mean what we say.
Let’s have captured alleged terrorists spend their days watching endless-loop videos of Michael Moore, with arabic translation, and of course, arabic signing for the poor terrorists whose ear drums have been damaged by proximity to too many detonating IEDs.
This raises a number of questions:
Is it torture to force them to watch the performances of someone who conspicuously supports them, even though this could be construed as forcing them to consume pork products?
What is Torture?
Yes, that’s floating about, again. The best answer I’ve seen so far is …
That smells like an equation. But there’s no equivalence if you are comparing *our soldiers* to those who are in the business of blowing up school children because they think they’re on a mission from God. Two entirely different groups who do not deserve equal respect or treatment.
I completely reject any notion that a splodydope deserves humane treatment. Humane treatment is founded in humanism — Concern with the interests, needs, and welfare of humans. Splodeydopes have taken themselves out of that game (because they are doing Allah’s will) and so have forfeited humane consideration.
Am I saying they are sub-human? No. Sub-humane.It’s a privilege vs rights thing. And they have willfully sacrificed the privilege. In the same way that a common criminal willfully sacrifices his right (privilege) to freedom of association when we jail him. Societies have always revoked rights and privileges from the undeserving.And I see no reason freedom from pain cannot be revoked.
Those who believe torture is not an effective means to extract intellegence will say things like.
It should never be acceptable due to its nature as unnecessary.
This misunderstands intelligence gathering. It’s true a torture subject may give unreliable data. But all intelligence gathering is based on considering more than any one source. Whatever data a torture subject gives is cross-referenced. Bad data may well come from torture. Or from a diplomat. We don’t stop asking questions of diplomats. And though the harm done to a torture subject giving bad data may seem kind of sinful I remind you I’m not favoring the torture of soldiers but of sociopaths.
How about we just make the whole discussion moot and broadcast that we are going to start coating our bullets in pigs blood and when / if enemies are captured, they will be in a cell that has been previously the storehouse of pigs entrails … or would that be torture before the fact?
TO: the mad bikini blogger
“How about we just make the whole discussion moot and broadcast that we are going to start coating our bullets in pigs blood.” — the mad bikini blogger
…as I understand it, that’s exactly what, then Captain Pershing, did with the Muslims in the PIs.
After the Muslims stopped rebelling, shortly thereafter, Captain Pershing was returned to the United States and promoted
Why shouldn’t we behead prisoners?
American citizens even. Nothing like a good decapitation to get the lips moving. I mean, if it will save even one American life.
TO: Juan Gewanfri
“Why shouldn’t we behead prisoners?” — Juan Gewanfri
…personally, I’m opposed to the technique used by our friends in al Qaida.
However, if you insist….please do it with a pig-blood coated knife.
I am tired of hearing how torture doesn’t lead to any valuable intelligence. BS- Two quick examples – Guy Fawkes gave up all his coconspirators relating to the Gunpowder plot- and he was an experienced soldier. A more politically incorrect example- Nazi Germany completely broke the German Generals plot through the use of torture- that’s how they got Rommel. Sure, some people who are tortured will give you the name of their first grade teachers- but that is surely easy to rule out.
The alternative is letting some pig like Atta plead the 5th when a 9/11 is being plotted.
TO: Joe D
RE: Even More Recent
During the campaign to take Iraq, a battalion commander interrogated a prisoner, i.e., illegal combatant, about what he knew of a pending counter-attack by the prisoner’s compatriots.
During the course of the interrogation, the battalion commander pulled his side-arm and threatened the prisoner with it. This included, apparently, firing a round into the ground by the prisoner.
The prisoner spilled everything he knew. The attack was thwarted. American lives were saved. The battalion commander was reprimanded.