Posted by: sean | September 16, 2006

Six arguments against torture

The Progressive has an article strongly against torture in general and the the myth of the ticking bomb scenario in particular.

Here is an interesting extract about the political costs of torture and the slippery slope that the US, as well as other liberal democracies, has slid down before:

The price of torture is unacceptably high because it disgraces and then undermines the country that countenances it. For the French in Algeria, for the Americans in Vietnam, and now for the Americans in Iraq, the costs have been astronomical and have outweighed any gains gathered by torture.

Official sources are nearly unanimous that the yield from the massive Phoenix program, with more than forty prisons across South Vietnam systematically torturing thousands of suspected communists, was surprisingly low. One Pentagon contract study found that, in 1970-71, only 3 percent of the Viet Cong “killed, captured, or rallied were full or probationary Party members above the district level.” Not surprisingly, such a brutal pacification effort failed either to crush the Viet Cong or win the support of Vietnamese villagers, contributing to the ultimate U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War.

Similarly, the French army won the Battle of Algiers but soon lost the war for Algeria, in part because their systematic torture delegitimated the larger war effort in the eyes of most Algerians and many French. “You might say that the Battle of Algiers was won through the use of torture,” observed British journalist Sir Alistair Horne, “but that the war, the Algerian war, was lost.”

Even the comparatively limited torture at Abu Ghraib has done incalculable damage to America’s international prestige.

In short, the intelligence gains are soon overwhelmed by political costs as friends and enemies recoil in revulsion at such calculated savagery.

…As we slide down the slippery slope to torture in general, we should also realize that there is a chasm at the bottom called extrajudicial execution. With the agency?s multinational gulag full of dozens, even hundreds, of detainees of dwindling utility, CIA agents, active and retired, have been vocal in their complaints about the costs and inconvenience of limitless, even lifetime, incarceration for these tortured terrorists. The ideal solution to this conundrum from an agency perspective is pump and dump, as in Vietnam?pump the terrorists for information, and then dump the bodies. After all, the systematic French torture of thousands from the Casbah of Algiers in 1957 also entailed more than 3,000 “summary executions” as “an inseparable part” of this campaign, largely, as one French general put it, to ensure that “the machine of justice” not be “clogged with cases.” For similar reasons, the CIA’s Phoenix program produced, by the agency’s own count, over 20,000 extrajudicial killings.

…The use of torture to stop ticking bombs leads ultimately to a cruel choice?either legalize this brutality, à la Dershowitz and Bush, or accept that the logical corollary to state-sanctioned torture is state-sponsored murder, à la Vietnam.

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