Sunday, August 12, 2007

The banality of torture and how it undermines American security

Alberto Gonzales once wrote an infamous memo arguing that torture was legal. More than that, he argued that torture was necessary and the rule of law obsolete. The man is now the chief law enforcement [sic] office of this country

So i was interested to read a piece in the NPR News blog on the banality of torture.

It's eerily similar to a comment made by Gen. Jacques Massu, the commander of French forces during the brutal Battle of Algiers.

"Torture was part of a certain ambiance," he said in 2000. "We could've done things differently."

Far from helping the cause, torture undermined France's fight against Algerian nationalism by galvanizing the undecided against the torturers and revolting France's allies. Torture is having exactly the same effect in undermining America's fight against Islamist radicalism, a cause where the support of allies is even more critical.

When the most powerful nation on Earth, one that spends almost as much on so-called national defense as the rest of the world combined, claims that it will perish if it doesn't torture people or if it actually respects international law, then it can't expect the benefit of the doubt from anyone. Regardless of its sanctified national myth.

Thanks to the Bush administration's crusade against American values, America's integrity is probably at an all-time low. It's a sad fate for a country once seen as the moral leader of the free world by the peoples of Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe.


Jim Sullivan said...


One thing I find puzzling in most arguments against the use of torture is the fact that torture isn't nearly as effective, if it is at all, as people that defend it want us to believe.

Besides the moral issues, which are horrid and numerous, and the morale issue, it just doesn't work.

A 'skilled' torturer can make anyone's mother or father admit to nearly anything from child molestation to the Lindbergh Kidnapping. Could someone explain how that helps anything? This goes for most methods be they Spanish Inquisistion type torture or the more modern rationalized 'methods' like waterboarding.

Proponents of torture claim the intelligence we have gathered makes it necessary. But what of all the innocents or least uninformed combatants that were tortured (A horrific crime in and of itself)that gave up any information they could, even if they had to make it up, to stop the torture?

Why don't we see and read more like that?

The torture topic puzzles me because it can be argued on moral, emotional and logical grounds and yet it rarely is argued on all three. Are there people out there saying these things and I'm just missing them?

Brian said...


Given the rest of your argument, I assume your first sentence should read, "One thing I find puzzling in most arguments IN FAVOR of the use of torture..."

I completely agree with your argument. I've written several essays condemning torture and I've often added the pragmatic aspect that it simply doesn't work. You can't rely on information gained that way. If you're being tortured, you will tell your torturers exactly what you think they want to hear, whether it's right or not. This is one aspect that Gen. Massu concluded in his memoirs. The only reason people continue to use it is because it's a crutch and there's an element of vegeance involved.