Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why is it so important to torture?

The NY Times op/ed page opines on the Bush administration proposal to change McCain's anti-torture amendment to allow the CIA to abuse prisoners:

President Bush's threat to veto the entire military budget over this issue was bizarre enough by itself, considering that the amendment has the support of more than two dozen former military leaders, including Colin Powell. They know that torture doesn't produce reliable intelligence and endangers Americans' lives.

But Mr. Cheney's proposal was even more ludicrous. It would give the president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense Department (the administration has in mind the C.I.A.) to mistreat and torture prisoners as long as that behavior was part of "counterterrorism operations conducted abroad" and they were not American citizens. That would neatly legalize the illegal prisons the C.I.A. is said to be operating around the world and obviate the need for the torture outsourcing known as extraordinary rendition. It also raises disturbing questions about Iraq, which the Bush administration has falsely labeled a counterterrorism operation.

Phillip Carter points out that a big problem with torture is that any evidence obtained in such a way would be excluded from war crimes trials or any international tribunals. The specter of tainted evidence makes the prosecution of people like Saddam Hussein and his ilk much more difficult.

Darius Rejali reports that the main case that pro-torture apologists cite is the French victory in Algiers. But now that the Algerian archives are open, it appears that it was better informant penetration of the local settlers rather than information gained through torture that carried the day. There is no good evidence I could find, or that Mr Rejali could find, to recommend torture above other methods of intelligence gathering. Given its significant downsides, institutionalized torture is not only unwise, but it ought to lead a nation into pariah status as surely as possession of illegal weapons of mass destruction.


At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Shloky said...

While Phillip Carter's article points out what the legal ramifications of using torture as a tool it, and a majority of other anti-torture works, disregard the immediate benefits of using torture. Actionable intelligence is based on how quickly our guys can break their captured guys. Example:
Guy tries to set off IED. We catch him. CIA talks to him to try and get names and locations of the rest of his cell. Choices: 1) sit around and slowly break him over a week, plenty of time for his cell to move. 2) torture him until he spits out the information and then toss him aside.

Small fish vs Big fish.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger fmodo said...


The question is not whether sometimes, in specific instances, torture may yield desirable results in theory. The question is whether a policy of torture accrues net benefits over harms in practice.

In the absence of rigorous empirical evidence to guide us, I think that most will agree that on balance the available evidence tells us that harm to US-local relations and US international moral leadership outweigh minor occasional tactical advantages.


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