The Case Against Torture Tactics

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

The debate over torture and what to do with the Guantanamo detainees continued to rage today as President Obama and former VP Dick Cheney gave almost polar opposite speeches today. Below is the article I wrote about torture and evil for Beliefnet.

The debate over torture rages on since President Obama released the Justice Department memos in April of 2009 that outlined the legal justification of “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on detainees in U.S. custody. As a country, we are not asking ourselves whether the United States actually tortured detainees; we are asking whether specific techniques, such as waterboarding, are actually torture. And, perhaps most importantly, we are asking ourselves whether or not torture is actually effective.

Many have decried the Obama administration’s move to release the memos, which not only outlined which techniques were used during the Bush administration’s tenure, but attempted to legally justify those techniques. They have claimed that it has made us less safe, and some have even gone as far as to claim that waterboarding is not torture.

On this last point, Marc A. Thiessen, visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution (a right-leaning think tank) and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, cited writer Christopher Hitchens, who tried waterboarding on himself, in his claim that it is not torture. Mr. Thiessen said on C-SPAN: “A common sense definition of torture is if you’re willing to try it to see what it feels like, it’s not torture.”

Remember, waterboarding is where the detainee is placed on a board lying on his back, head down. A bag is then placed over the head, and water is poured on the face.

I find Thiessen’s comment interesting in light of what Hitchens originally wrote about his experience in 2008 in Vanity Fair: “You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it ‘simulates’ the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning — or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure.” Hitchens also added, ” If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

Yet, short of a handful of pundits on both the right and left, I do not see wholesale outrage on the part of the American people for what was done in our name to suspects detained in U.S. custody. Although, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll, 46 percent of Americans feel waterboarding and other “aggressive techniques” are never justified, and a full 71 percent of Americans feel waterboarding is torture, most Americans do not even want an investigation into the full extent of the torture.

Consider this: In that poll, 62 percent of Americans do not think Congress should hold hearings to investigate the Bush administration’s treatment of detainees. Only 33 percent, in fact, do want such an investigation. In addition, a Pew poll showed that even religious Americans are more likely to justify torture of terrorism suspects.

Why is this the case? Why are there no widespread “torture tea parties” across the county?

Read the rest of the article here


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