Sunday, September 11, 2011

Torture in the post 9/11 era

From the safety and comfort of her desk in Santa Barbara, California, Lisa Hajjar concludes that "by the second anniversary of 9/11, US detention policy had become a concoction of willful ignorance and political recalcitrance dosed with a license to torture and topped off with a thick dollop of secrecy." As Americans celebrated in the streets following Osama's death, very few asked whether purely humane tactics were used to procure the necessary information and if the Navy Seals acted in a compassionate manner throughout their mission. However, the dust has settled and the mood has changed. Now that Osama is dead and the Al-Qaeda network is losing strength, many Americans are inclined to agree with Hajjar, condemning post-911 polices and practices as inhumane and disproportionate--even an overreaction. Unfortunately, Al-Qaeda's diminishing power is not the result of a collective decision to abandon practices of self-destruciton and murder in favor of more admirable goals such as tolerance and mercy. Instead, it is more likely that the uncompromising policies and practices learned post-9/11 contributed to the Al-Qaeda downfall.

My question is:
1. What exactly constitutes "torture"? Even the 2004 UN torture convention tiptoed around the meaning of the word with ambiguous and hazy definitions. Sleep deprivation, threatening, insults...are these classified as torture or simply inhumane treatment?
2. What polices and practices should be accepted in the era of asymmetrical warfare--is inhumane treatment acceptable?


TJE said...

How many people were water boarded during the Bush administration? Any guesses?

alexrued said...

Google says 3....what's the actual number?

Kevin Tutasig said...

Shoot, that is a really good point Alex.

This reminded me of a movie called "Unthinkable," which deals with torture for the greater good of the nation?

You should watch it, but I would not be able to give you straight forward answer.

TJE said...

Yes, 3. I was surprised when I heard Dick Cheney say that on Friday. My guess is that most Americans would guess dozens, hundreds. Cheney argued forcefully that enhanced interrogation was vetted and approved by all appropriate governmental authorities, was used only in very important cases, and yielded invaluable intel, including intel that helped find UBL.

Some have argued that sleep deprivation and loud music (including the theme song of the PBS show Barney) also constituted torture. What do you and others think?

alexrued said...

Water boarding terrorists, not executing Mother Theresa

If sleep deprivation, loud music, and water boarding are all considered torture, then I would be in favor of torture in certain cases.

"Preventing further attacks required the U.S. to drop its law-enforcement approach to terrorism and recognize that we were at war. Consider the difference between Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—the mastermind of 9/11 who told us much of what we now know about al Qaeda—and his nephew Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center who can't be questioned (even most courteously) without his lawyer present and has told us nothing of significance." -Paul Wolfowitz

Here Wolfowitz highlights that new methods [for example, water boarding] were effective in extracting information from known terrorists. I understand that there is a difference between something being "right" and "effective". However, in this case effectiveness is measured by increasing the number of lives saved and decreasing the number of terrorist threats.

Professor Eismeier makes another great point. Only 3 men suffered through water boarding under the Bush administration. It wasn't a fluke that these 3 people provided valuable information. First, because water boarding has been proven effective. Second, because these men weren't picked up for tax evasion and coincidentally found to have terrorist connections. The US intelligence community (the best in the world) captured these men because they were known, not suspected, to be involved in terrorist activities. That is why they were water boarded.

Also, in the post 9/11 age the stakes are much higher. The targets are no longer military men who knowingly enter battle and risk their lives. The government has a great responsibility to protect the citizens that have become targets in asymmetric warfare.

Will Rusche said...

Is no one going to stake moral ground and make the argument that the United States should not engage in torture?


Have we reached the point where the only way we see our military objectives as attainable is to engage in practices that while maybe effective, threaten the US's hold on the moral high ground? Where do we draw our line?

This isn't a zero-sum game where our successes cancel out reprehensible actions. If America seeks to be a guiding light for the world, then we should expect to be held to standards; to set an example.