It grieves me that it could possibly be necessary to argue to an American – much less an American veteran – that torture undermines everything that we would like to think we stand for…
1992 U.S. Army Interrogation Field Manual 34-52 states: “Experience indicates that the use of prohibited techniques is not necessary to gain the cooperation of interrogation sources. Use of torture and other illegal methods is a poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
In the words of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.” The United States ratified this convention in 1994.
If anything useful came out these interrogations in Iraq, we would have heard about it. – Alfred McCoy, historian and author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror
History shows — and I know a little about this — that mistreatment of prisoners and torture is not productive. It’s not productive. You don’t get information that’s usable from people under torture, because they just tell you what you want to hear. – Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. We are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law. . . . Yet torture continues to be practiced around the world by rogue regimes whose cruel methods match their determination to crush the human spirit. . . . These despicable crimes cannot be tolerated by a world committed to justice. . . . I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. – President George W. Bush, Statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 6/26/2003
The debate over how terrorist suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees….The administration had always asserted that the C.I.A.’s pressure tactics did not amount to torture, which is banned by federal law and international treaty. But officials had privately decided the agency did not have to comply with another provision in the Convention Against Torture — the prohibition on “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment.
First, torture is not necessary. If someone has information, they are just as likely, if not more so, to disclose the information after non-abusive interrogation tactics. Second, many who are interrogated do not have information to give. Third, whether or not a person has information, he or she will likely confess to anything to stop torture; thus the information obtained is never reliable. – statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights
Terrorism requires us to think carefully about who we are as free peoples and what we need to do in order to remain so. When we are confronted with terrorist violence, we cannot allow the claims of national security to trump the claims of liberty, since what we are trying to defend is our continued existence as a free people. Freedom must set a limit to the measures we employ to maintain it. – Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, 2004
All men have rights, including the right to a trial–a regular trial! The abuse of prisoners indicates that we don’t think detainees are human. – Lieut. Cmdr. Charles Swift
We were pretty much told that they [prisoners in Afghanistan] were nobodies, that they were just enemy combatants. I think that giving them the distinction of soldier would have changed our attitudes toward them. A lot of it was based on racism, really. We called them hajis, and that psychology was really important. – A member of the 377th Military Police Company, quoted by Douglas Jehl and Andrea Elliott, “Cuba Base Sent Its Interrogators To Iraqi Prison,” NY Times, 5/29/2004
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment harms individuals, sends a message of fear and intimidation to prisoners and members of minority political, ethnic, religious and belief groups, and undermines state legitimacy. – U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), 11/17/1999
How could ordinary American soldiers and civilian contractors inflict such degradation on other human beings? . . . Torture and humiliation is a landscape without boundaries, a terrible slope that even the most practiced interrogators can slide down once they allow themselves to apply the slightest physical or psychological pressure. – James Glanz, “Torture Is Often a Temptation And Almost Never Works,” NY Times, 5/9/2004
According to experts, the preconditions that can lead someone to become a torturer include a fervently held ideology that attributes great evil to some other group and defines the believer as a guardian of the social good, an attitude of unquestioning obedience to authority, and the open or tacit support of the torturer by his peers. – Daniel Goleman, “The Torturer’s Mind: Complex View Emerges,” NY Times, 5/14/1985
The United States helps the advance toward a world free of torture by a number of means, including a $5 million contribution to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. In addition we support torture victims’ treatment centers in the U.S. and abroad. . . . We continue to be appalled by the actions of governments that use torture or turn a blind eye to its occurrence. They may try to escape international scrutiny and accountability for their actions, but as long as torturers around the world spread fear and suffering, the United States will not waver in its commitment to eliminate torture. – U.S. Department of State, 6/26/2003
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it “bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East. How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. – Harold Pinter’s Nobel lecture, which the ailing playwright delivered by video from London December 7 2005 to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm.
The right to be free from torture . . . is one of the few absolute standards of international law, a right that exists regardless of the economic or social organization of a society. – Irving R. Kaufman, “A Legal Remedy for International Torture?” NY Times Magazine, 11/9/1980
As early as the 16th century the French thinker Montaigne had registered his distaste for what he regarded as nothing less than state-sponsored sadism. . . His protest was increasingly taken up in the century that followed, and by the 18th century writers such as Voltaire were speaking out scathingly against the barbarity of torture. – Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001
American interrogators working in Iraq have obtained as much as 50 percent more high-value intelligence since a series of coercive practices . . . were banned [in May]. . . . Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the American commander in charge of detentions and interrogations, said that . . . “a rapport-based interrogation that recognizes respect and dignity, and having very well-trained interrogators, is the basis by which you develop intelligence rapidly and increase the validity of that intelligence.” – Dexter Filkins, “General Says Less Coercion of Captives Yields Better Data,” NY Times, 9/7/2004
CIA veteran Bob Baer says torture was forbidden when he worked for the agency. “Now contractors are sent out to torture people to death and then hide it.” And now the Americans — at least in the minds of Iraqis and many others in the Middle East — are no better than Saddam? That’s right. The U.S. was going to go in and win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and instead we take over Abu Ghraib when we should have torn it down. It’s just enormously symbolic. It’s sort of like going into Baghdad and tearing down the central mosque and building a synagogue in its place. I don’t think [U.S. policymakers] really get the full picture of this. – “The Place is Broken“
How are the torturers justified? It is sometimes said that it is right to torture a man if his confession can save a hundred lives. This is nice hypocrisy. . . . Arrests are made at random. Every Arab can be “questioned” at will. The majority of the tortured say nothing because they have nothing to say unless, to avoid torture, they agree to bear false witness or confess to a crime they have not committed. – Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Henri Alleg, The Question, 1958
States which practice torture also resort to legal fictions and conveniences, the by now customary “emergency” statutes, which suspend constitutional rights, including the writ of habeas corpus, and facilitate arrest, detention, and interrogation. – Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994
A nationalist is someone who not only overlooks atrocities committed by his own side. He has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. – George Orwell
We discovered a prison for children – all aimed at — for Saddam Hussein to intimidate the people of Iraq. – President George W. Bush, July 10, 2003
An Iraqi TV reporter Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz saw the Abu Ghraib children’s wing when he was arrested by Americans. He related how he himself was arrested arbitrarily by the Americans while shooting film and spent 74 days in Abu Ghraib. “I saw a camp for children there,” he said. “Boys, under the age of puberty. There were certainly hundreds of children in this camp.” Al-Baz said he heard a 12-year-old girl crying. Her brother was also held in the jail. One night guards came into her cell. “She was beaten,” said al-Baz. “I heard her call out, ‘They have undressed me. They have poured water over me.’” He says he heard her cries and whimpering daily – this, in turn, caused other prisoners to cry as they listened to her. Al-Baz also told of an ill 15-year-old boy who was soaked repeatedly with hoses until he collapsed. Guards then brought in the child’s father with a hood over his head. The boy collapsed again. UNICEF has confirmed that Iraqi children have been imprisoned in Iraq.
Torture has a way of undermining the forces using it, as it did with the French Army in Algeria. . . . By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make of us. . . . [It] is self-defeating; for a strong country it is in the end a strategy of weakness. . . . the road back — to justice, order and propriety — will be very long. Torture will belong to us all. – Mark Danner, “We Are All Torturers Now,” NY Times Op Ed, 1/6/2005
Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators. . . . Jettisoning the rule of law to permit . . . torture is not a defensible policy for a civilized nation. It’s wrong. And nothing good can come from it. – Bob Herbert, “Torture, American Style,” NY Times Op Ed, 2/11/2005
They continued asking me questions, constantly the same ones: accomplices, addresses, meeting places. . . . . What they wanted to hear from me in Breendonk, I simply did not know myself. If instead of the aliases I had been able to name the real names . . . probably . . . I would be standing here now as the weakling I most likely am, and as the traitor I potentially already was. Yet . . . I talked. I accused myself of invented absurd political crimes, and even now I don’t know at all how they could have occurred to me. – Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, 1966
Once you open the door to torture, once you start legitimizing it in any way, you have broken the absolute taboo. President Bush had it right in his State of the Union address when he was describing various forms of torture by Saddam Hussein and he said, “If this isn’t evil, then evil has no meaning.” – Ken Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, CNN broadcast with Wolf Blitzer and Alan Dershowitz, 3/4/2003
In 1951, as a young paramilitary officer trainee in the C.I.A., I heard my instructors say that to win the cold war, “fighting fire with fire” would be required. I remember asking, how, if we did that, we could maintain any distinction between what we stood for, and what our communist opponents represented. I was told to sit down and shut up. – Donald P. Gregg, “Fight Fire With Compassion,” NY Times Op Ed, 6/10/2004
Torture destroys the soul of the torturer even as it destroys the body of his victim. The boundary between humane treatment of prisoners and torture is perhaps the clearest boundary in existence between civilization and barbarism. – Jonathan Schell, “What Is Wrong With Torture,” The Nation, 2/7/2005
Societies that do not recognize the dignity of the human person, or profess to recognize it and fail to do so in practice, or recognize it only in highly selective circumstances, become, not simply societies with torture, but societies in which the presence of torture transforms human dignity itself, and therefore all individual and social life. – Edward Peters, Torture, 1985
Meeting for the first time since the 1940s, World War II veterans who had been charged with top-secret interrogations of Nazi prisoners of war lamented “the chasm between the way they conducted interrogation during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.” … Another World War II veteran–one of the few who interrogated the early 4000 prisoners of war, most of them German scientists and submariners, who were brought in to Fort Hunt, Virginia for questioning for days and weeks–spoke of how “during the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone. We extracted information in a battle of the wits.” He added that he was proud that he “never compromised my humanity.” Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist, told the Post, “We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or ping pong than they do today, with their torture.” Several of the veterans used the occasion, upon receiving honors from the Army’s Freedom Team Salute, to state their opposition to the war in Iraq and methods used at Guantanamo Bay…. But what the Veterans’ revealed so strikingly was the disgust these former interrogators– in a war that posed a greater threat to America’s survival than the so-called “war on terror”–have for the cruel, inhuman, degrading and illegal techniques called for –and condoned– by the Bush Administration.
“The indisputable evidence disclosed today that the US government, with the assistance of psychologists, was engaged in psychological torture tactics for the CIA is as morally reprehensible as Tuskegee and the MK-Ultra program of the 1950′s and 60′s.” – Leonard S. Rubenstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights
Torture is a sign that a government either does not enjoy the trust of the people it governs or cannot recruit informers for a surveillance system. In both cases, torture to obtain information is a sign of institutional decay and desperation, and torture accelerates this process, destroying the bonds of loyalty, respect and trust that keep information flowing. As any remaining sources of intelligence dry up, governments have to torture even more. Torture also gives a fake sensation of power to the executioner a fact that has a positive feedback that further fuels more violence. Psychological torture has persisted not because it necessarily works, but because of an institutional history of the practice. The interrogators themselves tend to believe in its efficacy, and no matter what you do, you can’t stop them once they start. – Darius Rejali
Frank Anderson, former chief of the CIA’s Near East and South East Asia division, talked about reform but reminded the audience that “reformers are no smarter than the people who need to be reformed.” He believed that there is a natural tendency for organizations to resist change. Discussing the use of torture as an intelligence strategy, Anderson said, “[the] problem with torture is what it does to us… I will rebel against anyone who wants my son to torture — those are wounds that never heal.” He voiced support for Senator John McCain’s proposal that would ban the use of inhumane treatment against anyone in US government custody. With such reassurance, Anderson believed America can regain some of its lost global legitimacy and the intelligence community can concentrate on more effective means of obtaining information.
“You would be surprised at how far a can of orange soda would go,” said Lt. Col. Mark Costello, who oversees interrogations at Abu Ghraib. – Norimitsu Onishi, “Transforming a Prison, With U.S. Image in Mind,” NY Times, 9/16/2004
- CIA Veterans Condemn Torture
- Veterans for Common Sense
- Iraq Veterans Against the War
- Veterans for Peace
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- Physicians for Human Rights
- 911 Truth
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment