Monday, June 01, 2009

Torture: not only immoral but ineffective

Here's a link to the piece I did for yesterday's Register Commentary section on torture. I relied to a great extent on a lengthy phone interview with retired Adm. Lee F. Gunn (my old fraternity brother from college whom I hadn't talked to in decades until recently), who is among the retired flag-level officers actively explaining (college appearances, etc.) why they oppose the use of torture by the U.S. He is quite articulate and passionate in his understated way. I also read the four "torture memos" the administration released recently and did a good deal of reading.

It is difficult to believe that the use of torture got anything very useful or saved lives. As this Stratfor piece explains, the only real rationale for torture (except perhaps for purposes of humiliation or punishment or sadism) is the ticking-time-bomb hypothesis everybody invokes but has never happened in real life. What the U.S. needed after 9/11 was basic information about al-Qaida, which it was sorely lacking (and the Bushies ignored the people like Michael Shcheuer who did know something), not operational stuff (which changes almost immediately in a reasonably competent organization once they know somebody with certain info has been captured). They got some with conventional interrogation techniques and would undoubtedly have gotten more if they hadn't turned to torture. Not only a moral outrage but a strategic mistake.

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