White Coat Underground

Torture is torture

I’m no expert on interrogation. From what I’ve read, most of these experts find torture to be a modality with minimal utility, but I’m sure there are those who want to keep it around. My personal opinion is that it is horridly immoral, and rather difficult to justify. The “ticking bomb” scenario is vanishingly rare, and I’m sure out in the field, certain things are done from time to time without government approval. It is important to separate what the government overlooks, and what the government explicitly endorses. Still, these are issues for someone else.

What bothers me is all this talk of what is or isn’t torture. People will say, “well I tried the waterboarding thing, and it wasn’t so bad,” or, “I pulled all-nighters in college, and it sucked but it wasn’t torture.”

Commentators have been splitting hairs about the nature of torture—what level of discomfort constitutes torture, and how important long-term outcomes like PTSD are in defining torture. One of the arguments put forth in the Bush Torture Memos was that we have studied many of these techniques quite well in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. The soldiers who pass through this program have not been found to suffer long-term ill-effects.

My answer: so the fuck what? I call false analogy.

Pulling all-nighters and going through harsh army training are qualitatively different then being involuntarily imprisoned and subjected to the same physical experiences. Can anyone reading this spot the problem with this?

That’s right. When you are captured and tortured YOU CAN’T GET UP AND LEAVE. This is a big fucking difference.

Let’s apply this test: if your son was captured in Afghanistan and subjected to the same techniques, would you consider it torture?


  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    April 23, 2009

    That argument is like saying that women willingly participate in copulation, therefore rape is justifiable.

  2. #2 oscar zoalaster
    April 23, 2009

    Let’s apply this test: if your son was captured in Afghanistan and subjected to the same techniques, would you consider it torture?

    The difference, of course, is that the hypothetical son would presumably be an American. Therefore ‘American Exceptionalism’ would be invoked and the ‘wingnut’ would get mad and tell you that the question was rude and disrespectful because ‘his son was not terrorist and would not deserve to be tortured’. Then, if he is confronted with his admission that the techniques are indeed ‘torture’ he would become even more angry, accuse you of distorting his words, declare that ‘terrorists deserve it’ and that ‘it isn’t torture when they deserve it’.

  3. #3 DuWayne
    April 23, 2009

    Another significant difference, is that in training, they don’t do it over and over and over and over. While the student who is studying can, you know, go to sleep if it gets to rough.

  4. #4 mxh
    April 23, 2009

    Well, since the US gov’t already said that waterboarding is torture (when the Japanese did it), there really should be no question about it… but I guess when we do it for “freedom”, it’s not.

  5. #5 PalMD
    April 23, 2009

    Maybe we should call it “freedom boarding”

  6. #6 PhilM
    April 23, 2009

    Just an hour ago, a co-worker and I had a conversation on this very topic. To my dismay, he basically said, “dude, this is war. Everything is fair”. The Geneva convention apparently doesn’t count for anything. If I might add, this is a person who is a deeply religious person and I don’t understand where his humanity is hiding.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    April 23, 2009

    The Geneva convention apparently doesn’t count for anything.

    Of course not. Treaties are what the big dogs use to keep the little dogs in line (consider some of our “you must enforce our patents” treaties of late.)

    Sometimes the big dogs will sign off on them to let the second-raters pretend to still be players, but they’re unenforceable and can be ignored whenever convenient. As the great political philosopher wrote, “all power flows from the barrel of a gun.” The USA has the guns, therefore encumbrances like the Geneva conventions and Torture Treaty aren’t binding. As our recent Administration pointed out, we’re an empire and empires make the rules.

  8. #8 Juuro
    April 24, 2009

    The “ticking time bomb” scenario, as usually presented, is not only vanishingly rare, it is also false.

    I can not imagine a situation, where I have enough intelligence information to have captured a person who allegedly has the next vital clue, but do not have any other clues to act on.

  9. #9 Joshua Zelinsky
    April 24, 2009

    One fundamental problem with the ticking time-bomb; what’s to prevent our hypothetical terrorist from just lying about the bomb until after it goes off?

    In any event, the torture proponents have not been able to give a single example of where the ticking time-bomb occurred in real life. We do know however that they’ve tortured quite a few people, in some cases getting bad intel that actually made it harder to stop terrorists. We don’t even need to have the moral discussion; these techniques don’t work.

  10. #10 Dunc
    April 24, 2009

    From what I’ve read, most of these experts find torture to be a modality with minimal utility

    Only if your intention is to secure accurate information. If you’re trying to elicit false confessions and terrorise a civilian population, it’s just dandy.

  11. #11 James Pannozzi
    April 24, 2009

    And on this one PalMD is absolutely correct.

    Torture is torture, that of course implies denial of volition to the detainee, and all the, in my opinion, evasions, circumlocutions and rationalizations from apologists for Bush, Chaney, Rice, Gonzales et al. will not change that.

  12. #12 erin
    April 25, 2009

    I think there’s a major, very important difference in what the soldiers experience and what the detainees experience aside from the issue of voluntariness.
    The soldiers are able to tolerate the ordeal of being waterboarded because they have the knowledge beforehand of what is going to be done to them, and more importantly, they know that this is occurring under controlled conditions as a training exercise and can be 100% sure that everybody there will do everything in their power to prevent any permanent injury or death from occurring.
    The detainees have no such knowledge. They don’t know what is going to be done to them today, tomorrow, or the next day. They don’t know how far the people torturing them are willing to go, whether they give a damn whether the detainees live or die. They have no idea how long it will last.
    I think most (not all) of us without phobias involving drowning could tolerate being waterboarded under the conditions experienced by soldiers. Knowing that the people doing it to you wish you no ill harm, and that if things get awful enough, you can end it with the “safe word” (not that it’s easy in such situations to say “I can’t take this program”. I walked out of ROTC my second year of college, and even that was terribly difficult. But even when people have no intention of quitting, no matter what, the knowledge that you CAN quit if things get truly unbearable provides a level of psychological solace that is immeasurable) creates an entirely different frame of mind than a guy who has no clue what’s happening to him and having no control over the situation.

    I think that’s the really important difference, and why you can’t compare the suffering of the soldier being waterboarded as a training exercise with the suffering of the detainee experiencing the exact same procedure.

  13. #13 eddie
    April 25, 2009

    Maybe I’m the only one to see parallels between the ‘justifications’ for torture and animal testing.
    The ticking bomb is disease needing cures. The victims can’t get up and leave. The information gained is not that good, if at all. It keeps contractors’ wallets fat.

    Help me out here. What am I missing?

  14. #14 eddie
    April 25, 2009

    What is it with those vegetarians/vegans? Don’t they know that plants are living organisms too?

    Also, torture is when you write ‘then’ when you should have wrote ‘than’.

  15. #15 eddie
    April 25, 2009

    oh, and why can’t i seem to stop sodomizing myself? It’s rather tricky, gives me a helluva backache, but still…

  16. #16 eddie
    April 25, 2009

    I call sock-puppetry!

  17. #17 eddie
    April 26, 2009

    Whoever is pretending to be me in the last two comments is the lowest of the low.
    Howabout genuinely trying to answer my honest, non-side-taking questions.
    And PalMD, isn’t there some way to out that scum sucker?

  18. #18 PalMD
    April 26, 2009

    Well, yes, I could just delete them comments, but then it’s the fake-Kirk problem

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