Regarding ISIS Torture, Foley, and US Torture

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My friend Scott S posted this in a political forum regarding the ISIS torture of Foley. He is an ex-military small-government guy, and gave me kind permission to re-post it.

When we use torture, it is only because our ends justify our means. There is important information we want/need/can obtain via torture. When ISIS uses torture, it is obviously wrong because their ends cannot justify their means and besides, they’re not torturing anyone with useful information.

These positions are incorrect in almost every aspect.

First of all, ISIS may have had very good reasons for torturing Foley. If he was a Western intelligence operative, torture may have allowed them to confirm his identity, mission, methods, and contacts. This would be highly useful to them, so surely you would agree that torture might have been a very rational choice for them?

Second, we should acknowledge the fact that evidence obtained via torture is notoriously unreliable. Most experts agree that torture is so horrible that most people will say virtually anything to make it stop. They may tell the truth, but they also appear to embellish the truth with anything/everything they can think of in the hopes of ending the torture.

In a situation where you do not know the truth you are trying to obtain via torture, it can be very time-consuming to sort out what is true and what is false…which kind of defeats the alleged intention of obtaining useful operational intelligence in a timely manner.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Foley eventually told ISIS all sorts of information about his intelligence gathering activities as he was tortured. This didn’t make Foley a spy. It just made him a desperate young man who was trying to stop the pain. I feel very sorry for him being subjected to that kind of pointless abuse.

Basically, torturers end up torturing people until they exhaust the person of stories/information. The ineffectiveness of torture is well documented. This was one of the main reasons that Israel stopped torturing people (there was a time when it was legal under Israeli law). The recent US Senate report on American torture allegedly reached the same conclusions: torture was ineffective in obtaining useful operational intelligence.

The only people who claim that torture is effective seem to be the people who are implicated in torturing people. This self-serving conclusion has not been supported by third party analysis of their claims in places like Israel and the USA. These are the same people in the USA who are desperately trying to suppress the Senate report.

Third, let’s ignore the ineffectiveness of torture and simply assess whether the ends justify the means.

If your ideals include respect for human rights (for example, the notion that due process and rule of law should restrain the power of the state over individuals, the idea that an individual should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, the right of an individual to be tried before an impartial court of law and to hear/challenge evidence against him/her and avail themselves of a full defense, the idea that a person should not be compelled to testify against themselves in a court of law, etc), it seems impossible to situate torture within this value framework. How can we inflict incredible pain and potentially life-threatening injuries on people on the mere basis of a suspicion that they are a bad guy?

This becomes even more evident if you contemplate the administrative details of torture. For example, who gets tortured?

If we know that a person is a bad guy and we have all the evidence on him, we don’t really need to torture him. The argument has always been that we torture him to find out new secrets and additional information about his nefarious activities, but the evidence suggests that this isn’t very effective. Also, everyone is trained to simply buy as much time as possible under interrogation so that your still free cohorts have as much time as possible to change their operational plans, relocate, etc. We do it & the bad guys do it because you must assume that your own secrets are compromised when one of you is captured.

So we have a guy who might be a bad guy but we’re not sure. If we torture him, we might get info to confirm he is a bad guy. He might also just be an innocent guy who tells us what he thinks we want to hear in order to get us to stop torturing him. There are a lot of these kinds of stories from detainees who were tortured by the USA. They provided tons of bogus info that took a long time to investigate before we could confirm that they weren’t even real bad guys. When we released them, they told about their torture and making up stuff to get us to stop. There is a very tragic, dreary consistency in the stories from these released detainees.

Let’s say we’re torturing someone and we’ve gotten a lot of info. When do we stop torturing them? Maybe they’re concealing the most important secrets? Maybe they have told us literally everything they know? It’s hard to tell…so we keep brutalizing them to try and figure it out.

As the US soldiers torturing prisoners in Taxi to the Dark Side confessed, you hit them and if they cry out, they’re exaggerating. If they don’t cry out, they’re tough guys who need to be broken. Later when you beat a taxi driver to death, you have to wonder why the f*ck we beat a man to death.

We’re now facing the problem of holding a bunch of allegedly bad dudes from whom we obtained a bunch of great evidence via torture. It is inadmissible in our courts, so we can’t try these guys. Do we create secret military trial kangaroo courts to convict them? Do we just hold them indefinitely despite the fact that they have never been convicted of any crime? Do we turn them over to friendly regimes who will disappear them for us? Do we just turn them loose? There are no easy answers.

Torture is a betrayal of American ideals. It is operationally ineffective and morally reprehensible. The American torture program had a terrible track record that included meager results and out-of-control sadists abusing innocent people. The program appears to have greatly exceeded the parameters and controls established by elected officials and US law, including the use of tortures which were never approved as well as torturing some people (we don’t even know how many) to death. It’s no surprise that American torture went out of control. It is inherent to the nature of such an immoral and unlawful program. Just ask anyone currently being tortured in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, etc.

It’s time to shine some light on this dark chapter in American history and dispel the myths that it was anything less than a total disaster.

5:44 pm on September 2, 2014