Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Torture: what is it good for?

From the outstanding Pharyngula science blogs comes this little gem (below) on torture and waterboarding. The author fails to mention that historically torture was used not only to instill fear, as he rightly asserts, but also to get the tortured to sign "confessions" drawn up (and made up) entirely by the torturers. Other than that omission, PZ Myers has got it right in my opinion. The article in question also links to a self-experimenter and self-enamored "toughie" who decided to figure out how waterboarding feels exactly. That important aside makes for very compelling reading, as waterboarding is considered by many as nothing more than a form of rough interrogation, an alternative to "cup of tea/coffee, name and rank, please". This highly personal testimony on the effects of waterboarding tells a very different tale. READ IT.

By PZ Myers.

One little post about waterboarding seems to have stirred up the mob, but at least the majority seem to agree that it is torture. How could it not be? It's a process for causing pain and suffering, nothing more. At least the commenters here, even the ones I disagree with most strongly, are more honest than our politicians, many of whom seem to be in a state of denial.

(Here's the account by one tough Internet forum member of his experience with waterboarding [note by editor]).

But then the argument becomes whether torture is a useful procedure. I'm going to surprise some people and agree that torture is an extremely powerful tool. It's just useless for gathering information. There's just no way you can trust information gotten while ripping somebody's fingernails off with a pair of pliers — they'll scream anything to get you to stop.

Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population. If you want it widely known that your ruling regime is utterly ruthless and doesn't care about individuals, all you have to do is scoop up random people suspected of anti-government activities, hold them for a few weeks, and return them as shattered wrecks with mangled limbs, while treating the monsters who would do such a thing as respected members of the ruling clique, who are immune from legal prosecution. The message gets out fast that one does not cross the government.

So, yeah, if you're a tyrant in Uzbekistan who is holding control through force of arms, fear is a useful part of the apparatus of control, and torture is a great idea, as are barbaric executions, heads on pikes, and bullets to the back of the head.

When the US government announces it's support for torture, they aren't talking about intelligence gathering: they are simply saying "Fear us." They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.

The real problem is that fear isn't a good tool to use in a democratic society. We are supposed to be shareholders in our government; when a process of oppression is endorsed by our legislators and president, we should recognize that they are trying to set themselves apart from the ordinary citizenry, and it's time to rebel…before the goon squads come to your neighborhood. Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

And I know some are going to crawl out of the woodwork to claim it's OK in this case because the US is mainly trying to torture non-citizens, outsiders and foreigners — but then what it represents is an announcement to the rest of the world that the American superpower is not planning to be a benevolent member of the community of nations.


At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gert: I respectuflly disagree. I think torture(and I agree that whaterboarding is torture) can be useful in putting the perverbial "fear of G-d" into potential (or wannabe) terrorists and it's probably also good at making real terrorists tell whatever it is they're hiding. I'd like to pick apart this bit if you will:

If you want it widely known that your ruling regime is utterly ruthless and doesn't care about individuals, all you have to do is scoop up random people suspected of anti-government activities...

So because the Bush government is using excessive force against known terrorists it's a "ruthless regime." That's a bit far-fetched for me.

And "random" people "suspected" of anti-government activities???

Yeah, what's-his-name in Uzbekistan may be doing just this and so is Assad, so is monkey-face in Iran and so are most Arab dictators but this is not the case for Bush. I don't think he's a good president, granted. But not for these reasons.


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