Friday, May 27, 2005

A few words on torture

Today on NPR, (I think you can listen here: May 27 Day to Day) I heard an interview with David Rifkin, who was watering down the definition of torture. He failed to answer a good question from Alex Chadwick, something like "What if Americans are taken prisoner? Would you want to see them treated this way?"

To avoid that question, near the end of the interview, Rifkin made a ridiculous comparison between the rough basic training of our armed forces and the beyond-the-pale treatment of war-on-terror prisoners. He noted that we seem to treat both groups similarly, with sleep deprivation, loud noise, and stress positions, then asked rhetorically whether we are abusing our recruits. But there is every difference in the world between people who submit to short-term abuse in return for the long-term rewards that US military service offers, and people who are stressed and injured without consent, without an end in sight, and without a promised reward.

Are we are using torture to help POWs be all that they can be? No. This is hardly an adequate defense of our well-documented abuse of Muslim prisoners.

See Slate for the well-documented way we have treated our prisoners. Frankly appalling, here is some of the conclusion, from the interactive primer:

These policies were deliberately designed to carve out exceptions to international rules regarding prisoners of war that the United States had once championed and led the world to embrace. The rules would remain in place for everyone except the detainees in Guantanamo and Afghanistan purported to possess valuable information that they would not otherwise divulge. "These are the worst of a very bad lot," Vice President Dick Cheney said of the Guantanamo prisoners, according to Rose. "They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can." It is difficult to challenge such a consequentialist argument, for few Americans would rather follow the rules than prevent another terror attack. The exceptions to the standard military doctrine of interrogation, however, did not remain exceptions. They swallowed the rules, as exceptions are prone to do.

The real legacy of American interrogation practices, post-9/11, is that practices and justifications that should have been reserved for the worst of the worst (assuming we could know who they are) began to be used indiscriminately. In the eyes of the government, they began to seem almost normal. The effect has been to turn America from the world's leader on many issues of international human-rights law into the world's tyrant.


God alone knows how many people this inhuman policy will kill: Americans, Iraqis, POWs, jailors, civilians, soldiers, Christians, Muslims, atheists, Jews, men, women, and children.

1 comment:

Chip Morgan said...
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