Are Americans Indifferent to Torture?

 

shutterstock_217094626The protests and condemnations of the political Left and mainstream media following the election of Donald Trump have been deafening. To a great extent, many of us may have resorted to simply rolling our eyes and shrugging our shoulders since the complaints and accusations are non-stop.

But lately I’ve noticed a more insidious activity that is intended to influence the public consciousness. Although it is promoted with a veneer of truth, it is intended to continue to tarnish America’s reputation and character. In this case, the vehicle is “proving” that Americans are becoming complacent about torture. Let me show you how subtle and sinister these accusations have become.

Last week the MSM published articles on the 2016 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In particular the report highlights the American people as one group that has become inured to torture. They state,

“Forty-six percent of Americans surveyed think that captured enemy combatants may be tortured to obtained important military information, and thirty-three percent think torture is part of war,” according to the ICRC poll, said Heritage fellow Cully Stimson in a statement Monday. “These are disturbing numbers because torture is a crime, and banned under domestic and international law.”

There are a couple of noteworthy points that could lead us to question the report’s validity. The countries at the top of the list that find “torture” 100 percent unacceptable are Yemen and Colombia; since both of these countries have experienced their share of torture, we can consider those experiences drive their views. It’s also interesting to note that “Palestine” is listed as a country in the report. That insertion, I believe, also suggests an inappropriate bias of the Left. To date, I have seen the MSM publish articles on this report, but without any assessment of it. This omission of reviewing the report further contributes to the defamation of the United States.

President-elect Trump’s selection of General Mattis as Defense secretary has indirectly contributed to this negative view of the US with his comments on waterboarding. As James Mitchell, a retired Air Force officer and former CIA contractor reported in his op-ed piece in the WSJ, the general reportedly advised, “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I do better with that.” James Mitchell doesn’t agree.

James Mitchell was contracted by the CIA in 2002 to “help put together what became its enhanced-interrogation program. He spent six years at “black sites” around the world “trying to extract lifesaving information from some of the worst people on the planet.” He also points out, “It is understandable that Gen. Mattis would say he never found waterboarding useful, because no one in the military has been authorized to waterboard a detainee … I respect Gen. Mattis, but he has never employed enhanced-interrogation techniques. I have.”

Mitchell doesn’t support the use of waterboarding except with the most hardened of criminals, especially when a planned terrorist act appears imminent. And yet we have had multiple reports and individuals condemning the use of waterboarding. Mitchell says,

Critics will point to the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report that declared enhanced interrogation didn’t work. The investigation cost $40 million and took five years, yet investigators didn’t even speak to anyone involved in the program. Anyway, a report produced by an extremely partisan congressional committee deserves skepticism to begin with.

Although I respect General Mattis and what he will bring to the Trump White House, I don’t think he realizes that he has been influenced by the mainstream media rather than relying on his own direct experience. He unintentionally has validated the ICRC report, essentially confirming their conclusions — that Americans who support waterboarding are unnecessarily supporting torture.

Most of the leaders of the Congressional armed services or intelligence committees declined to comment on the ICRC report. House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., however, spoke out:

The United States will never go back to waterboarding or any form of torture, something I believe the vast majority of the military, intelligence community and American public would never condone,” Schiff said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Not only is it immoral, but it is also unconstitutional, ineffective and violative of both U.S. and international law.

At a time when we will need every resource available more than ever to protect our country, government officials are determined to tie our hands by eliminating a rarely used but effective tool in information gathering. And when President-elect Trump is trying to restore America’s image and leadership in the world, these types of unchallenged smears, that make no effort to study the nuanced approaches to America’s safety and security, will not be helpful.

We will need to be vigilant concerning these kinds of distortions about the United States and its people. Those who try to undermine our reputation must be called to task. Promoting the assumption that Americans are indifferent to torture is only one way to attack this country; ruling out a reconsideration of waterboarding is foolhardy and shortsighted. My hope is that President-elect Trump will use his platform to continue to call out those who misrepresent the character and values of this country, and who also put us at risk.

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  1. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    In the “ticking bomb” scenario, torture is certainly justified. Even real torture. And we know it works.

    I draw the line at the Noachide prohibition: tearing flesh from a living creature. Up to that point, if lives may be at imminent risk unless information is extracted, then torture can be justified.

    But, of course, using torture is, and always will be, a judgement call. It is not easy or fun. Only in hindsight will we know if we did the right thing.

    Americans are not indifferent to torture. Under the right circumstances, torture may be a necessary evil. Torture should never be used to extract confessions or score points. For me, the purpose must be to save lives that would otherwise be lost.

    • #1
  2. ModEcon Inactive
    ModEcon
    @ModEcon

    Susan Quinn: Promoting the assumption that Americans are indifferent to torture is only one way to attack this country; ruling out a reconsideration of waterboarding is foolhardy and shortsighted.

    I agree with both. Thank you for pointing them out! It is essential to recognize the nature of such attacks and of our own limiting policies. Personally, I find myself on side that in a true war, everything that you are willing to do should be permissible. No artificial limit is necessary or good. Of course, announcing what you are willing to do ahead of time is quite a silly thing to do.

    We should also fight back with our own narrative of how we see those who try to misrepresent the nature of America and of what we actually believe.

    Without a positive (affirming or declaring) message of what we stand for, we will never win.

    • #2
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Well said, Susan.

    Judging from many previous conversations on Ricochet, debates regarding torture are seldom productive because there is no generally shared definition.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    iWe:In the “ticking bomb” scenario, torture is certainly justified. Even real torture. And we know it works.

    I draw the line at the Noachide prohibition: tearing flesh from a living creature. Up to that point, if lives may be at imminent risk unless information is extracted, then torture can be justified.

    But, of course, using torture is, and always will be, a judgement call. It is not easy or fun. Only in hindsight will we know if we did the right thing.

    Americans are not indifferent to torture. Under the right circumstances, torture may be a necessary evil. Torture should never be used to extract confessions or score points. For me, the purpose must be to save lives that would otherwise be lost.

    iWe, do you think waterboarding is torture, or does it matter if the situation calls for it?

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    ModEcon: Personally, I find myself on side that in a true war, everything that you are willing to do should be permissible. No artificial limit is necessary or good. Of course, announcing what you are willing to do ahead of time is quite a silly thing to do.

    So do you think we should disregard the Geneva Convention? I’m concerned about how our own people might be treated if we ended up in a war. I’m not sure what you mean by “artificial limit,” ModEcon. And I certainly think it is time to clarify the position we choose to hold in the world! Thanks for that comment!

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Aaron Miller: Judging from many previous conversations on Ricochet, debates regarding torture are seldom productive because there is no generally shared definition.

    I’m less concerned with how we define torture and more concerned that we might acquiesce to others who think they should decide for us exactly what they think it should be. Thanks, Aaron.

    • #6
  7. ModEcon Inactive
    ModEcon
    @ModEcon

    Susan Quinn:

    ModEcon: Personally, I find myself on side that in a true war, everything that you are willing to do should be permissible. No artificial limit is necessary or good. Of course, announcing what you are willing to do ahead of time is quite a silly thing to do.

    So do you think we should disregard the Geneva Convention? I’m concerned about how our own people might be treated if we ended up in a war. I’m not sure what you mean by “artificial limit,” ModEcon. And I certainly think it is time to clarify the position we choose to hold in the world! Thanks for that comment!

    First, I think that the Geneva Convention is only relevant in “gentleman’s wars”. In a true war, as seen in Vietnam for example, the convention has no place. It would only limit our own troops, but not the opposition. That is good way to loose a war. And, if you are in the war in the first place, I think you should necessarily be in it to win at even very high costs. Lets consider the effects of dropping nukes on Japan vs not bombing military building that were too close to schools in Vietnam. Could Vietnam have been another strong country like Japan and South Korea are today?

    As for the artificial limit, what I meant was the rules of engagement philosophy that severely limits our own military actions unilaterally without a good reason.

    • #7
  8. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Weirdly—and possibly inadequately—I think it is probably best to have an official policy against torture (including water boarding). Exigent circumstances (ticking time bomb) are rare, but they do happen.

    A police officer was shot, here in Maine, a few decades back. When his back up arrived on the scene, they quickly took the shooter into custody, but in the dense woods and bracken, they couldn’t find their fallen comrade. The sergeant held a gun to the shooter’s head and demanded to know where the officer had fallen. The shooter told him. They found their friend—alas, already dead.

    This—the forced “confession”—made case law since the murderer had incriminated himself when he admitted he knew where the body of his victim lay. The judge ruled that this was exigent circumstances; the possibility of saving the fallen officer’s life justified the sergeant’s behavior.

    Incidentally, the perpetrator was not injured, made it to jail in one piece, and to this day enjoys the perks of being a cop killer in the state’s maximum security prison.

    I am not entirely sure I could have prevented myself from killing him, so this impresses me.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    ModEcon: As for the artificial limit, what I meant was the rules of engagement philosophy that severely limits our own military actions unilaterally without a good reason.

    Agreed. We’ve made those even more restrictive under Obama, from what I understand.

    • #9
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Kate Braestrup: Weirdly—and possibly inadequately—I think it is probably best to have an official policy against torture (including water boarding). Exigent circumstances (ticking time bomb) are rare, but they do happen.

    Kate, I’m not clear. It sounds like you are saying that official policy should be against torture, but that people can break policy in certain circumstances (as in the cop shooting you referenced)? In the OP, the Mitchell said that waterboarding should only be used in the “ticking time bomb” circumstances. Help me out.

    • #10
  11. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Susan Quinn: iWe, do you think waterboarding is torture, or does it matter if the situation calls for it?

    It is not torture. Anything we routinely use in training our own people is not torture.

    • #11
  12. Dean Murphy Member
    Dean Murphy
    @DeanMurphy

    I object to characterizing water boarding as torture.

    If it *is* torture, then why would we inflict it upon our own troops in training?

     

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Dean Murphy:I object to characterizing water boarding as torture.

    If it *is* torture, then why would we inflict it upon our own troops in training?

    Let me clear with you, Dean and @iwe: I don’t think it is torture. We’ve had our own government and outside forces use poor data to show us that it is. And we need to stand up for what we believe (it’s not torture) and do it with confidence and commitment.

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Let me say one other thing: I detest having to use extreme measures; I don’t think I personally could do it under any circumstances. Just because I detest it, however, doesn’t make it wrong. I think it’s important to make that kind of distinction. When we let our emotions get in the way of using clear judgment, we are not protecting our country as we should, and we are more likely to make unwise decisions.

    • #14
  15. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Since the conversation is headed down this path, I’ll clarify my earlier comment.

    Some associate “torture” only with means. By this definition, it is the deliberate infliction of pain, terror, or distress for any purpose whatsoever. Thus, a painful method is torture whether the purpose is sadistic enjoyment or interrogation; whether it is a last resort or a first resort.

    Others believe the definition of “torture” includes both means and ends. Thus, “interrogation” is always distinct. Or it may be distinct given certain parameters.

    After selecting such a definition, it then becomes necessary to qualify both types and degrees of discomfort. Is physical pain more or less morally significant than psychological pain? Does it matter whether or not the pain leaves scars or acute memories? Does it matter whether or not our own officers — who, unlike criminals and enemies, do not know the limits or wills of their torturers/interrogaters — willingly endure the same pains for training purposes? Does it matter whether the interrogated person is withholding vital information maliciously, suspiciously, or innocently?

    Please, if you would argue either for or against “torture” in any circumstances, briefly define the term in your view so that we can all know what we’re really talking about.

    • #15
  16. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    iWe: Anything we routinely use in training our own people is not torture.

    Dean Murphy: If it *is* torture, then why would we inflict it upon our own troops in training?

    This is a common but weak argument. If I cut myself before cutting another person, would that be similarly acceptable? Or is it rather the absence of lasting trauma, blood, and scars that makes waterboarding acceptable?

    In some cases, the purpose of such training is to help an interrogator understand what he is doing to others. But the training more typically is meant to teach our soldiers or officers to withstand “torture” or “forceful interrogation” when captured by enemies. In other words, they endure those methods in training precisely because the methods are “torture” or something approximate.

    • #16
  17. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge
    @wilberforge

    One is a little short on data that reveals where ISIS, The Muslim Brotherhood and numerous others ever agreeing the the Rules of Anything.

    The investigations mentioned above confirm nothing but ambiguity. There is something  empty in claiming some false premise of a Higher Moral Ground from behind the curtains.

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    This  is the memorandum that John Yoo wrote on waterboarding. I have not had a chance to read it, but I will try to get to it later tomorrow.

    • #18
  19. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Keep in mind that the Geneva Conventions haven’t been static since inception.  We, the US of A, formally adopted all but the last version, from the ’70s, if I recall correctly.  Again, IIRC, that last version dramatically tightened the definition of torture, such that our military objected to it.

    Hopefully someone better informed on these details will pop in here. /-:

    { I’m basically with @iwe and @modecon on this topic. }

    • #19
  20. Pugshot Member
    Pugshot
    @Pugshot

    As many of the commenters have noted, the two primary concerns seem to be: (1) what behavior constitutes “torture,” and (2) what situations might justify its use? There is some treatment (lowering the temperature in a prisoner’s cell, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day, playing loud, raucous music or noise) that might be applied to make a prisoner uncomfortable and break down his resistance to talking that most of us might condone without deeming it “torture.” Actual physical application of force or the infliction of physical pain (not just discomfort) would probably constitute “torture.” However, there are clearly degrees of physical pain. It’s hard to agree how much might be too much. Also, infliction of pain simply because the jailer enjoys the infliction of pain on his prisoners would clearly be torture – and I assume we’d all condemn that. Nevertheless, the classic “application-of-extreme-physical-discomfort-for-the-purpose-of-obtaining-valuable-information-that-will-save-lives” type of “torture” would probably be far more acceptable to most people. To me, waterboarding is the infliction of extreme physical and psychological discomfort. As (formerly) practiced by our intelligence services, it was administered with the intention that the subject not be permanently physically harmed. It depended as much on the psychological effect it imposed on the subject as by any actual physical harm it inflicted. That doesn’t mean it was pleasant or harmless. A subject could have a weak heart and die from a heart attack while undergoing it. But under ordinary circumstances, it would not have any lasting harmful physical consequences. If applied to someone to disclose the location of Osama Bin Laden (or his current equivalent), or to get someone to reveal the location of an ambush, or to reveal the location of hostages, etc., then I wouldn’t have any problem with it. We can rest assured that most of the combatants we engage these days would not hesitate to use such treatment against our soldiers if they capture them.

    @katebraestrup says:

    This—the forced “confession”—made case law since the murderer had incriminated himself when he admitted he knew where the body of his victim lay. The judge ruled that this was exigent circumstances; the possibility of saving the fallen officer’s life justified the sergeant’s behavior.

    This situation doesn’t present a legal problem – at least with respect to the defendant. His “confession” can’t be used against him at trial. A competent trial judge would exclude the defendant’s statement (as well as any information surrounding the compulsion) and the defendant would be tried based only on whatever other evidence the police and prosecutor had. Any civil suit the defendant might try to bring based on this improper police behavior would probably be dismissed based on the court’s determination that the exigent circumstances justified the police behavior and that exclusion of the evidence was the sole recourse.

    • #20
  21. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Dean Murphy:I object to characterizing water boarding as torture.

    If it *is* torture, then why would we inflict it upon our own troops in training?

    Because it is torture and we are trying to get them trained to withstand it.

    • #21
  22. Mark Thatcher
    Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Susan Quinn:

    Kate Braestrup: Weirdly—and possibly inadequately—I think it is probably best to have an official policy against torture (including water boarding). Exigent circumstances (ticking time bomb) are rare, but they do happen.

    Kate, I’m not clear. It sounds like you are saying that official policy should be against torture, but that people can break policy in certain circumstances (as in the cop shooting you referenced)? In the OP, the Mitchell said that waterboarding should only be used in the “ticking time bomb” circumstances. Help me out.

    This is the McCain codicil.  After supporting Congressional legislation limiting the use of coercive interrogration, he was asked about the “ticking time bomb” scenario and replied along the lines that if that occurred our people would do what they needed to do.

    • #22
  23. Trinity Waters Inactive
    Trinity Waters
    @TrinityWaters

    Before we embark on a protracted discussion of torture, let’s please define what that word means.  I’ve noticed that other members have raised the same objection.  Waterboarding cannot possibly be torture since we use it as a tool to toughen up our own soldiers.  If we’re talking about real torture such as chopping off fingers or other forms of brutality, then let’s be clear about it.  I’m sure there will be two hundred comments here about how bad the USA is, but I challenge you to step back and actually define torture.  It’s not my job, as I didn’t pose this topic.

    • #23
  24. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Trinity Waters: Waterboarding cannot possibly be torture since we use it as a tool to toughen up our own soldiers.

    Here again we see an implied element of definition. The implication seems to be that torture necessarily results in lasting harm.

    I disagree. But add that the long list of conditions in defining torture.

    • #24
  25. Ryan M(cPherson) Member
    Ryan M(cPherson)
    @RyanM

    Susan Quinn:

    Dean Murphy:I object to characterizing water boarding as torture.

    If it *is* torture, then why would we inflict it upon our own troops in training?

    Let me clear with you, Dean and @iwe: I don’t think it is torture. We’ve had our own government and outside forces use poor data to show us that it is. And we need to stand up for what we believe (it’s not torture) and do it with confidence and commitment.

    When the left says things like what you mentioned in your OP, it is lies… no other way to put it.

    Do a survey about water boarding and then write an article about torture. Clever(ish) leftists will include stuff in the article about actual torture just to plant the images in your mind, then cite surveys that really show nothing of the sort. It is pure dishonesty, same as gun violence “statistics” and just about everything the left tries to sell us. It’s just too bad that people are so quick to believe with no questions asked.

    • #25
  26. CM Member
    CM
    @CM

    Ryan M(cPherson): Clever(ish) leftists will include stuff in the article about actual torture just to plant the images in your mind, then cite surveys that really show nothing of the sort. It is pure dishonesty, same as gun violence “statistics” and just about everything the left tries to sell us. It’s just too bad that people are so quick to believe with no questions asked.

    I don’t go deep into study questions, but I suspect the same bait and switch with regards to disciplinary approaches by parents – beatings in the survey swapped to spankings in the literature; sensory deprivation of toddlers swapped with time outs.

    They loosely define the term so that even the most innocent and controlled falls squarely within.

     

    • #26
  27. CM Member
    CM
    @CM

    As to the OP – I definitely think the issue is how Americans and the rest of the world define “torture”. If Americans think waterboarding is torture, they will be more inclined to be ok with it. But if waterboarding isn’t seen as torture, than torture may be more universally rejected.

    I don’t know how much is done to train soldiers in “pain management” (the only way I could think to describe this) so as to withstand torture techniques. I don’t think full born torture is needed to train someone to withstand the worst… whether it is training to go to a happy place or to pass out on command, you don’t need the full weight to learn to do this.

    What I think I know on this subject is Hollywood based, which is a pile of something steaming. I’m pretty certain this is true for most of us commenting on this subject. I know interrogation techniques are wide and varied and there are differing degrees of interrogation – from police academy to Vietnam War degrees. I don’t expect everyone is subjected to the full battery that the U.S. utilizes.

    • #27
  28. Dean Murphy Member
    Dean Murphy
    @DeanMurphy

    Susan Quinn:Let me say one other thing: I detest having to use extreme measures; I don’t think I personally could do it under any circumstances. Just because I detest it, however, doesn’t make it wrong. I think it’s important to make that kind of distinction. When we let our emotions get in the way of using clear judgment, we are not protecting our country as we should, and we are more likely to make unwise decisions.

    Also, from a practical standpoint, routine use of extreme measures reduces their effectiveness.

    From a psy-ops point of view, though, having the extreme interrogation methods equated to torture helps a bit, because it allows the interrogee to save some face at having supplied actionable intelligence because he held out until “tortured”.

    • #28
  29. Dean Murphy Member
    Dean Murphy
    @DeanMurphy

    Mark:

    Dean Murphy:I object to characterizing water boarding as torture.

    If it *is* torture, then why would we inflict it upon our own troops in training?

    Because it is torture and we are trying to get them trained to withstand it.

    So why not use needles under fingernails, and red hot pokers?

    • #29
  30. Christian Speicher Inactive
    Christian Speicher
    @ChristianSpeicher

    The trick was to call water boarding “torture” while it was exactly created as a method of enhanced interrogation without permanent harm to the the interrogated person, aka as a humane alternative to real torture even in the most extreme scenarios with die hard islamist unlawful combatants and potential thousands of civilian terror victims which cannot possibly brought to a good end with a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes.

    From there (calling sth torture that is far removed from the brutal methods known as torture that have been used for thousands of years and are still used today by our enemies) the ideological left wing adversaries of the West can use a common sense position in favor of water boarding to besmirch the name of fundamentally good and decent people.

    It should serve as a reminder that the Left has to be fought at any instance and cannot be allowed getting away with misconceptions and lies.

    • #30

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