web counter Media Lies: What is torture?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

PLEASE NOTE: Media Lies has moved.
The new address is http://www.antimedia.us/.
Please adjust your bookmarks.

What is torture?

There's been much discussion about torture lately, most of it hyperventilated hyperbole with no relation to the truth. Today Greyhawk addresses a post by Andrew Sullivan (whom I no longer read) about torture and gives him a D+. (A side note - I find it fascinating that Andrew is now being fisked by the blogosphere. At one time his opinions were highly respected, if not always agreed with.)

I don't think Andrew does much worse on this subject than most commentators. Very few even bother to deal with facts, so intelligently discussing the issues isn't even possible. To begin with, the question of the Geneva Convention must be answered.

For me it's already answered. Terrorists are not lawful combatants under the laws of war. They are criminals. Therefore they do not qualify for the protections of the Convention. However, even if you were to argue that they do qualify, the Convention explicity exempts those who disregard the Convention, and it would be mendacious in the extreme to argue that they should be treated under the rules when they blatantly disregard them themselves.

The Geneva Convention is a series of international agreements that arose out of the ruins of World War II. Their purpose was to establish standards of behavior for occupying forces as well as the detention of prisoners of war. Lawyers with skill and training that I have never had have admitted that the terrorists held in Guantanamo do not qualify for protection under the Convention. Whether they do or not is a moot point since the President has ordered that they be handled within the rules of the Convention.

The larger question is, what is torture. For those who aren't familiar with the issues, Wretchard has very good roundup of the discussions going on among bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Michael Ledeen, Gregory Djerejian and Michael Totten.

Frankly, many of the acts committed at Abu Ghraib were not, in my opinion torture. The dictionary definition of torture is "infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion, excruciating physical or mental pain; agony:, something causing severe pain or anguish." Under that definition, no one is going to be able to convince me that putting women's panties on a man's head, stripping a man naked and exposing him to the opposite sex, or forcing a man to stand for long hours is torture. Irritating? Yes. Aggravating? Yes. But torture? Please give me a break.

Even sexual abuse of a prisoner is not torture. Wrong, immoral, deserving of punishment, yes, but not torture. Inflicting physical or mental pain is torture. In the namby, pamby world we inhabit today, that includes putting panties on someone's head, but the mental pain is self-inflicted. If I was in prison and was "tortured" that way, I'd be laughing my ass off at the stupidity of my "torturers". Start pulling my teeth out or yanking my nails, stabbing me with needles or poking my eyes out, then you're describing torture.

I believe the United States should not engage in torture at all, but I certainly think there are coercive techniques that are permissible to obtain information.