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Monday, April 27, 2009

Does use of torture keep us safer?

President Barak Obama recently declared that the more extreme techniques used in interrogations of captured terrorists “did not make us safer.” Is this true, I wonder? My guess is that such interrogation techniques do make a society safer. Aggressive interrogation as a forcible means of persuasion will almost always lead to information that will not ordinarily be available to those responsible for our safety.

…interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates.

- Washington Post

The Washington Post gives several examples of US authorities obtaining potential life-saving information through the use of such techniques. But is public safety the only criterion needed to justify torture or so-called enhanced interrogation techniques? For me the answer is that it depends on the specific techniques used.

Here are several examples of techniques that have become increasingly controversial:

  • Prolonged isolation
  • Prolonged sleep deprivation
  • Sensory deprivation
  • Extremely painful “stress positions”
  • Sensory bombardment—prolonged loud noise or bright lights
  • Forced nakedness
  • Sexual humiliation
  • Cultural humiliation, such as desecration of holy scriptures
  • Being subjected to extreme cold that induces hypothermia
  • Exploitation of phobias
  • Simulated drowning (waterboarding).

These are acts in which severe pain or suffering is intentionally inflicted on prisoners as a forcible means of persuasion, and so constitute torture under most definitions accepted internationally. Such techniques have apparently been used by the American CIA and were directly adapted from the training techniques used to prepare US special forces personnel to resist interrogation by enemies that torture and abuse prisoners. And I would be very surprised if similar techniques are not used in training our Canadian special forces.

From what I can tell, none of the prisoners suffered permanent damage as a resulted of the use of the techniques employed by the CIA. Electric shock and cigarette burning were not used. Fingers were not crushed, nor were eyes blinded. The pain and suffering inflicted were temporary.

Wars are not for the faint of heart. They are brutal, frightening things to be avoided at almost any cost. But once declared, we owe it to those who fight on our front lines to be resolute and to use any and all means to conduct the war expeditiously while protecting the lives of those who are on our side of the conflict.

I do not believe in the concept of humane war. If there are to be rules, let all sides involved agree on what they are and be punished if they break the rules. But let’s not make grand sweeping condemnations of what we consider inhumane, when what is most inhumane is having to fight the war in the first place.

We are told that the information we get from torture is not reliable—hogwash! Some of the information will not be reliable—as is the case with most tips given freely to police agencies. The answer is to train our agencies to carefully and critically vet the information before acting on it. This is done all the time with information obtained through traditional channels.

Once our government uses the word “war” to describe any conflict in which my country is involved, I want techniques such as those listed above to be authorized for use against our enemy. No breaking of bones, no blinding or amputations, no use of branding irons or of electric shock—that would be barbaric. But enhanced  interrogation techniques, yes.

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  1. Agreed Russ:

    I wrote this today:

    Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: The Need Is Clear! Let's Go To The Videotape

    The Taliban Moves To Within 60 Kilometers Of Controlling Nuclear Weapons

    Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

    For those on the extremely naive and holier than though left, read this very, very carefully.

    If there was any question regarding the use of any technique at our disposal to pull actionable information out of terrorists, I believe the transcript and clip below of Kuwaiti Professor Abdallah Al-Nafisi speaking on the topic of terrorist attacks on the United States should go a long way towards quelling it.

    Unless of course you are an employee of the ACLU, or someone that is willing to die, going to the grave with your incorrect principles intact...

    See the video and read the rst of the story at The Political and Financial Markets Commentator at