So which is worse, exactly?
It’s a tough one. Torture is bad, but so is permanent jail with no trial.
This torture debate is out of fucking control. The pro-torture people have confused reality with the show 24. They keep saying that torture is necessary because of ridiculous terror scenarios that just don’t happen in real life. “What if they’ve hidden a nuclear bomb at the cute and fuzzy puppy factory, on field trip day, in bustling downtown Orphanville, during the Olympics, and the bomb’s going to explode in a minute and a half, and we’ve captured the only person who knows where it is, and he says he won’t tell us unless we torture him and is singing ‘la la la, please please torture me, I love being tortured’? That’s why we have to make torture legal.”
Let us for a moment, imagine a magical world in which the United States government/military does not torture people. And in that fictional, magical world, we have run across the completely impossible “terrorists nuke the puppy dogs” scenario above.
GOVERNMENT AGENT #1: This man is the only one who knows where the bomb is. If only there wasn’t this pesky anti-torture law. Guess we’ve got no choice but to let 5 million people die in nuclear fire.
GOVERNMENT AGENT #2: No we don’t!
AGENT #1: Huh?
AGENT #2: Stand back, I’m going to BREAK THE LAW!
AGENT #1: Gasp!
AGENT#2: Jail would be a small price to pay for saving millions.
[Later that day]
AGENT #1: Wow, that was amazing how you saved the day like that. And the president himself gave you a full pardon for torturing that guy!
AGENT #2: All in a day’s work. Now let’s go home and not torture anybody!
Here’s the deal. Legal or not, I’m pretty sure that prisoners get tortured in war and in law enforcement all the time, regardless of the nation or culture involved. And since it’s so easy to illegally torture people in secret, I really don’t understand why Dick Cheney and his army of the undead are pushing to make torture legal in some quarters. Really, Dick, I’m sure that after they start tearing some guy’s toenails out they’ll let you lick the spoon.
Usually, I bypass moral arguments about torture altogether. Just about anyone in law enforcement or military intelligence tells you that torture doesn’t work as a means of interrogation. Sure, the threat of pain is a powerful motivator, but it is a motivator to please the torturer, not to tell the truth. “Yes there’s an imminent terrorist plot, yes I’m the king of the terrorists, yes there’s a nuclear bomb in my freezer, yes I will agree that everything you suspect is true, just please, please take the electrodes off my nutsack.” If torture doesn’t work, what rationale do we have left? Hatred of Muslims?
I also read an interesting essay about torture this week (can’t remember where) which asked the question “what does torture do to the torturer?” Presumably, a torturer is a) already a sadistic fuck, b) a good person who’s going to break under the horrific nature of what they’re doing, or c) twist them into sadistic fucks. This mystery essay pointed out that during times when the US military did technically allow torture (surely under a different, fuzzier name, of course), that the torturers got completely out of control. They were no longer interested in answers and intelligence, they were interested in the pain and the breaking of wills. To the point that they went rogue, refusing to stop torturous investigations even when ordered to by their superiors. How many out of control, highly-trained torture experts do we want roaming our streets?
Do principles fit in here anywhere? America, which so loudly proclaims its love and support of all sorts of scared human values– liberty, equality, democracy, free speech, the right to purchase and consume fried cheese till your arteries resemble plugs of granite– is willing to wring the necks of those values in order to save our own skins? At any point does someone step up and say “fuck that, I’d rather risk a little of my safety than have my country torture people”?
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