J., over at the Armchair Generalist, had a post a few days ago about the issue of torture as policy and why it doesn’t work. He cited an op-ed piece by Stuart Herrington who’s got an extensive (over 30 years) record of conducting, teaching and evaluating military interrogation techniques and who says flatly that torture is unnecessary and counterproductive to intelligence gathering. It’s a brilliant article, check it out.
You can hear more from Col. Herrington here in this interview from NPR’s Fresh Air.
There’s another very compelling article written in the Small Wars Journal blog, here, by another person with decades of experience as a special operations veteran and instructor. In the course of his duties he’s both undergone and conducted water boarding (in the course of training U.S. military personnel) and he makes no bones about it: water boarding is torture. The end of the post also has a lengthening list of links that discuss the debate. The comment thread is quite good as well.
Finally, Kaj Larsen at the Huffington Post (a former SEAL member) actually demonstrates a water boarding.
One of the points brought over and over is that
torture ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ are needed because ‘9/11 changed everything’ and that supposedly we’re in a new type of war that human existence has never seen before and our very existence is at stake.
Perhaps I’m over stretching a bit I think this has a lot more to do with filling a fantasy some of us have that we’re living in unprecedented, historical times of life or death struggle and that we’ll be remembered for millennia. Members of both the Left and Right have this fantasy but those of the Right (in my experience) tend to focus on the military manifestation of it (and some times the religion aspect as well with the certainty that the ‘end times’ are coming). Once you convince yourself that this ‘war’ is so vastly different than anything the human race or America has ever faced before you can begin to advocate things that would have been unthinkable.
I’ve always felt that we (Americans) deserve to ‘win’ because we at least try to hold ourselves to a high standard. We advocate doing the right thing even if it leads to difficulties. If our enemies are barbarous and commit atrocities our victory over them is all the more impressive because we don’t descend to their level and mimic their acts. If we do utilize the same tactics that our foes do: targeting innocent civilians, torture of prisoners, disregarding the rule of law and embracing inhumanity than I’m not sure why we should win. What legacy do we pace on to future generations of Americans? I haven’t had much patience for the Abu Ghraib/torture apologists (especially the ones who get their ‘knowledge’ of terrorism and the military from Tom Clancy and ’24’) and I think most of them are doing as much damage to our country as anyone with their finger on an IED trigger, if not more.
It’s a sad time for our country when people can openly consider, without derision, conducting torture in the name of our country. I think history will not judge us favorably.