Caution: Several documents mentioned (and linked) in this article are depicting torture acts.
Yesterday, I had a nice dinner with a couple of friends of my dad, and they were quite surprised that I remember that when I was like 8 years old, they took me to the cinema to see Asterix & Obelix take on Caesar, and that we left in the middle of the film, since I was highly uncomfortable with a torture by dismemberment scene, who was supposed to be humorous. Don't worry, I got offered a nice toy to make me forget this event, we went back home, and I didn't made any nightmares this night.
But maybe because of this event, I'm deeply convinced that torture is wrong, and that it can not (and should not) be justified, ever.
Last year, at the Tails hackfest, I met a human right lawyer, Sarah Kay. We had a chit-chat about the rendition program of the United States, and the usage of torture around the world. I told her that I was convinced that all of this is wrong, but I struggle to convince people with logical arguments. I went back home with a big list of documents and books on this topic, and spent the rest of my holidays reading them. I initially wanted to write a long detailed blogpost about the topic, but some people, that are way more clever than me, already published really good things on the topic:
- Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (If you're lazy, you can read this interview instead), by Alan Dershowitz. He's in favour for using (and legalizing) torture, and I think that it's important to have the opinion of people who you disagree with.
- Torture and the ticking bomb (You should buy it.), by Bob Brecher. This document was written as a response to the one above; it's a complete and self-contained repository against torture, no matter what. Read it.
- The Executive summary about Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, explaining that the CIA tortured (innocent) people (At least 22% of them where improperly detained.) in a very creative/sick way (breaking bones and being forced to stand on them, power drill, Russian roulette, hypothermia with ice-water bath, rectal feeding, the infamous waterboarding, mock executions, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation (also known as white torture), stress positions, humiliations, loud music and light control, 20-hour interrogations, controlled fear by the usage of dogs, white noise, imprisonment in coffins, …), that 85% of the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation Group consisted of external contractors paid a bit less than $200 million in total, that torture doesn't work, that they lied about it, that the USA violated a metric fuckton of international treaties, that they raped (and murdered) prisoners, that evidences were destroyed and no one was convinced for that, … I had hard time sleeping after reading this report. And it's only a 480 pages excerpt from a more-than 6000 pages report.
- A review of the FBI's Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq. When the FBI is horrified by your interrogation techniques, there is something wrong.
- How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, by Matthew Alexander, is an historical novel from an interrogator who served in Irak, and helped to capture Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaeda. The story is strongly oriented against torture, stating that it's both morally and legally wrong, but also because fear, control, domination and coercion are counter-productive for interrogation.
- The Army Intelligence Interrogation Field Manual, which states that The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.
- The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, written by Jane Mayer, about rendition, war on terror, and global surveillance.
- Outsourcing Torture - The secret history of America’s “extraordinary rendition” program., a great article from the New Yorker, by Jane Maye
- Torture In 2014: 30 Years of Broken Promises by Amnesty International, reporting that torture is still going in 141 countries around the world.
- The two
pieces of garbagepeople that designed, implemented and overseed the USA's torture program are currently being sued by the ACLU.
- Speaking of Amnesty International, they did a survey indicating that almost one third of the people in the UK think that torture could be justified. Worldwide, 44% of respondents feared they could be tortured if taken into custody in their country.
I'd like to end this short article with various quotes:
"Does torture work?" as a question needs to be put in the bin with "Is slavery commercially feasible?" & "Can genocide help overpopulation?"
Let's take your hypothesis a bit further. We have captured a terrorist, but he is a hardened character. We cannot be certain that he will crack in time. We have also captured his wife and children. After much agonising, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one answer to Sydney's question. Torture the wife and children.
The North Korean ambassador argued that crimes committed by the CIA and US military forces at “black sites” around the world represent the “most brutal medieval forms” of torture, and the “gravest human rights violations in the world.”
I believe a report of waterboarding would be serious, but I do not believe it would define torture
-- Attorney General John Ashcroft
I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program.
-- Former vice-president of the USA, Dick Cheney
“A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”
-- Dick Cheney, again.
I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
-- Christopher Hitchens, journalist at Vanity fair, who changed his mind about whereas waterboarding is torture or not, after being waterboarded for only 14 seconds.
We did a whole lot of things that were wrong, we did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.
-- The President of the USA, Barack Obama, in a speech
I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee's report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities. I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. [...] Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.
I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak. America is a better nation than that.
-- John McCain, again, Press conference, November 28, 2007, about waterboarding
To my knowledge, no US military personnel involved in interrogations waterboarded any detainees, not at Guantanamo or anywhere else in the world.
-- Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense, in his memoir "Know and Unknown"
The very fact that torture might work in one case provides a clear rationale for its use in hundreds of other cases where it does not work, so long as the executive believes that it might conceivably save American lives. The fact that it will make us hated around the world and will incite our enemies to ever greater acts of violence against us is a small price to pay.
The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example. I call on all governments to join with the US and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment
-- President George Bush, Washington Post, June 27, 2003
Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists. The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror – the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives.
-- George Bush again, on why he gave his veto on a law setting the Army policy as standard for all agencies and prohibiting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
They are subject to waterboarding so they know exactly what happens to a person if they're captured. Of course, we know our enemies really don't capture Americans. They execute them. But I think this is something that's trying to inflame people and trying to treat our enemies with kid gloves, people who hate us and want to kill us and now it's the popular thing to say, oh, America's engaged in torture of prisoners, and waterboarding, as most people in congress have said earlier, is not torture as some imagine.
--Congressman Ted Poe, December 12, 2007
The military men and women assigned to the task of detaining and questioning terrorists at Guantanamo Bay have served our country with honor and professionalism.
-- Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense
The renditions have been "conducted lawfully, responsibly, and with a clear and simple purpose: to get terrorists off the streets and gain intelligence on those still at large,"
We do see them working to train people whom you and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow about if they were getting off a plane with us at Kennedy
-- General Hayden again.
As intelligence officers, our inclination, of course, is to look ahead to the challenges of the future rather than backwards at those of the past. Nonetheless, it was very important that we supported fully the Justice Department in its efforts" and "I would like to thank everyone who played a role" in doing so.
-- CIA Director David Petraeus, after the DoJ said that the Government won't bring charges in investigation about CIA's torture practises.
Ridha al-Najjar was the first to be held at detention site Cobalt. He had been left hanging, by handcuffs and not allowed to lower his arms for 22 hours each day for two consecutive days. He was kept in total darkness, kept cold, had music blasted at him and was shackled and hooded. The CIA inspector general would later say that al-Najjar “became the model” for treatment of CIA detainees at Cobalt.
Torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture
-- President George W. Bush, State of the Union Speech, January 27, 2005
The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishments, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other measures of brutality whether applied by civilian or military agents.
-- Article 32 of the fourth Geneva Convention
There is no such thing as a non-covered person under the Geneva Conventions. It’s nonsense. The protocols cover fighters in everything from world wars to local rebellions.
-- William Taft IV, former State Department legal adviser
They loved that these guys would just disappear off the books, and never be heard of again. They were proud of it.
-- Dan Coleman, former FBI agent, about the CIA's rendition program
Some victims were still traumatized years later, he said. One patient couldn’t take showers, and panicked when it rained.
-- Dr. Allen Keller, director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture
The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture – "enhanced interrogation techniques" – is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.
Congress doesn’t have the power to “tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique.” He continued, “It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.”
I was caught by the Nazi near Grenoble, and was questioned for half-a-day. It wasn't fun.
-- My own grand-father, who owned a truck-company, and used to pass food and equipment to the French Resistance in the Vercors, who was subject to Verschärfte Vernehmung (The litteral translation of this original Nazi term in english would be enhanced interrogation). It was nothing else but torture.
If you have some questions or documents/quotes to add, feel free to email me.