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  • Wednesday, November 16, 2005


    Justifications for Torture

    On a recent Democracy Now!, there was a quote from National Security advisor Steven Hadley speaking on "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" on CNN. Unfortunately I was unable to track down a source for the exact quote. I was able to find plenty of references to his appearance but every story focused on Hadley's denial that the Bush administration manipulated intelligence data to justify going to war in Iraq. A few hinted at the quote I was looking for but did not directly quote it.

    From the Daily Times, a Pakistani paper:
    WASHINGTON: A top White House official on Sunday refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture in a bid to prevent a terror attack, arguing the US administration was duty-bound to protect the American people.

    The comment, by US national security adviser Stephen Hadley, came after US President George W Bush said during a trip to Panama earlier this month that Americans "“do not torture"”. It also came amid heated national debate about whether the CIA and other US intelligence agencies should be authorized to use what is being referred to as "“enhanced interrogation techniques"” to extract information from terror suspects that may help prevent future assaults.
    From Forbes:
    But appearing on CNN's 'Late Edition' program, Hadley elaborated on the policy, making clear the White House could envisage circumstances, in which the broad pledge not to torture might not apply. That appeared to include a possible imminent attack similar to that of September 11, 2001.
    The quote I was looking for went something like this: The issue of torture is more nuanced than generally framed in public. Suppose we (US security forces) had captured one of the Sept 11 hijackers on September 8th. Would torture be justified to prevent the events of Sept. 11? In other words, a "small" evil to prevent occurrence of a "larger" evil.

    This is the slippery slope of justification. This is the reason definitive parameters and limits need to be in place. Because under pressure there is the real danger of redefining those limits on the fly, to create very elastic ethical boundaries. When is it appropriate to use torture? If information is needed in the next twenty minutes? Two hours? Two days? Two weeks? What forms of torture are OK? Will torturing the person's wife or husband (or children or parents) be effective in gaining information? What level or kind of information is worth torturing for?

    If all of these questions strike you as beyond the pale, I'm with you. The essence of torture is rarely to extract valuable information. The essential nature of torture is to break someone's will and ability to fight. The essence is to destroy any semblance of resistance in the individual and any organized opposition. The essence is to terrorize and demoralize. Despite claims that torture will obtain useful intelligence in some situations, I doubt its effectiveness.

    One measure of a society is what it will do to remain a dominant power, what it will do to control its members and "outsiders." By that measure, by any ethical measure, the Bush administration's instance upon having the option of using particular torture techniques on prisoners is sickening. It is equivalent to the worst repressive regimes, perhaps not in quantity, but in intent and spirit. No obfuscation or prevarication can hide the bleak immorality of the administration's stance.

    I don't know the number of Iraqi prisoners who are dead by homicide and whose bodies show evidence of torture. One source says at least seven prisoners were tortured to death in US custody in Iraq. Of 27 prisoner deaths by suspected or confirmed criminal homicide, only one happened at Abu Ghraib. Just a few "bad apples." Right. "The US does not torture." Right. At least seven tortured to death. At least US citizens have their freedom, right?

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