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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Crunch Time on the Torture Question

Torture is mainly used as a tool to terrorize and intimidate a people.
This has historically been the case, and I submit that this continues to
be the case with regards to the U.S. occupations of Iraq and
Afghanistan. While torture has also been used to get information, this
really doesn't amount to much of the torture going on. Torture for
information is very unreliable. First of all it requires a victim that
really knows something critical, which is rare in a fluid battlefield
situation. And you have to already be in a position to tell the
difference between the truth and a good lie. It is rarely the best way
to get the info out of someone. I think torture for information would be
done rarely and it would be kept very secret and the victim would be
killed to keep it a secret. As a practical matter, torture for
information just doesn't have much utility.

Torture as a tool to terrorize people into going along with your
program, on the other hand, has a proven track record. Your victims
could be pretty much anybody in the targeted group. They don't even have
know anything worth knowing. Remember Han Solo in Star Wars? As he is
being thrown back into the cell with the others after being tortured by
the Empire, he says incredulously "They didn't even ask me any
questions!" Well that wasn't the point was it? Generally you'd pick on
people that got 'uppity' in one way or another. Certainly this applies
to the American traditions of torture. None of black men that were
beaten, burned and got their balls cut off were asked any questions either.

Torture is about terror not information. This is the great truth that
has been so artfully hidden by all the discussion about whether or not
you can get useful intelligence that way. It has been presumed in this
whole discussion that the motivation behind the torture has been
information. It is not. It is terror and intimidation. The U.S. is
carrying out an occupation and like murder and false imprisonment, it is
a necessary tool of occupation. There are those that may point out that
it is self-defeating but those that still believe that an occupation can
work also believe that the human spirit can be broken.

Now, unlike torture for info, torture for terror cannot remain secret
because it's real target is not the people being tortured, it is the
people that will fear being tortured and so toll the line. You release
the people you torture so they can spread the news or you otherwise
makes sure your target audience 'gets the message'. In Vietnam, the U.S.
Army had a practice of throwing VC POWs out of helicopters. Nothing very
secret about that. What was going on in Abu Ghraib was no secret in
Iraq, just as Nixon's 'secret' bombing of Cambodia was no secret to the
Cambodians being bombed. In both cases they knew long before the story
'broke' in the U.S.

Public knowledge is really essential for this type of torture to work.
In fact, the more public, the better, as long as you aren't held to
account. Torture for terror is most effective when the details are most
widely known and the torturer goes unpunished. That is why it is crunch
time on the torture question. If there are no real prosecutions, if they, in effect, get away with it, then all this talk and all the details only further the purpose of their crimes. Anybody who thinks of
opposing them will know they tortured and are free to torture again.
That is exactly what they want.

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