December 06, 2005

A Change of Direction- One Time Only

I am going to step out of my box here, this blog being my ‘happy place’, place to vent and reflect, a catch all to what goes on inside of this head, and do something different.

I want some opinions. And these opinions, this is touchy topic. And if there are no comments, this is not something I will be hurt by or take personally. It’s a pretty hot button for some… as it can be for me.

So here are some ground rules for the comments, before I step out and talk about the topic at hand and explain from where I come.

I want an opinion only. You can be as passionate in your opinion as you want. Or you can unemotionally state the facts as you see it. I dont care. What I don’t want is for anyone to respond to someone else’s. It is their opinion, you are entitled to yours. In my world, all my readers are well read and informed. There are no stupid people who read my blog and nobody will be treated as such.

I don’t want a debate. I want no nastiness. Boorish behavior will NOT be tolerated and I don’t give a crap who you are. You can be a dear friend that I e-mail every day or I can be the Godmother to your first born and if you have chosen to be nasty, condescending or confrontational to another of my commenters I will delete your comment. Period.

I’m dead on serious about that. I DO NOT CARE WHO YOU ARE. If *I* deem what you have written to be ugly or attacking to me or another, your comment is history. Understood? Good.

I’m looking for other points of view. That is all.

With that… I read somewhere that something like 60% of all Americans think that some form of torture is OK. I’m having a tough time wrapping my mind around this. Perhaps I am too close to the situation.

Those who do not know me, may wonder how that can be, me this Mom with a blog in West Palm Beach, Florida. See… I know POWs from two wars. I can pick up the phone and call a POW from Vietnam and say, “Hey, this is Bou, I have a question for you…”

Or, I can pick up the phone RIGHT NOW and call a POW from GW1 and say, ‘Hey. It’s me. I’m in trouble and I need A, B, and C’ and I guaran-damn-tee you, he’d be on a plane to my home and give me A, B, and C… on a platter, engraved in gold… if it was that important.

I’m not being flippant. This man has been very dear to me. And I know him well and I know what he went through. I KNOW WHAT HE WENT THROUGH. ALL OF IT. I sat by his wife as she waited for him, not knowing his status. His wife is one of my best friends. And I sat there in horror as I watched CNN and realized the enemy was torturing our men…

So I wonder what the distinguishing difference is that it is a horror that they do it to our servicemen, yet it is OK for us to do it to them. I thought perhaps the distinction is that ours were soldiers where theirs are ‘not’, so then suddenly ‘it’s OK’. But then I thought, to the Iraqis, fighting on the other side, they are all soldiers… soldiers of Allah. But then I thought… Hmm. We don’t recognize THEM as soldiers. Our government doesn’t.

And it gets all messed up in my head. Really. It kind of seems like what Jack would call ‘Calvinball’. We can make the rules and change them. “You’re a uniformed soldier, in an Army we recognize so you CAN’T be tortured. But YOU’RE a terrorist, who thinks you are a soldier for YOUR country, doing what YOU think God wants, but we don’t recognize you as you aren’t a uniformed soldier of the current country, of which I doubt there were really any, but since you are a threat to us, torture is OK.”

Maybe I'm just so horrified by what I know... what I have seen of the aftermath, the anguish that is long term... maybe because I still live it sometimes, maybe I am too close to see why it's OK.

As I said, I'm having a tough time wrapping my mind around it. And I'm having a hard time figuring out what type of person does that for a living. An American who knows that he tortures for a living. How did he reconcile that in his head? Does he sleep at night? Is he equally damaged doing what his country has asked of him? Or is he a sicko that it does not bother at all. Is it all just for the good of God, Home, and Country... red, white, and blue and apple pie. All this runs through my head.

So feel free to express your opinion in my comments. No name calling or ugliness. No, “Bou, You ignorant Slut”. I want to hear if you have an opinion, if you’re comfortable expressing it. And if it gets nasty... and out of control, I’ll turn off comments and forget the whole damn thing, realizing, it was a big big mistake on my part.

Posted by Boudicca at December 6, 2005 09:52 PM | TrackBack

You're right. The thought that America would condone torture for any reason is repugnant. I can't believe any significant portion of the American populace would approve. It's one of the basic things that separates a civilized culture from a barbaric one. The monsters of history, including Saddam,are sickening because they would go to any lengths,including torture,to stay in power. And they could always find an excuse. There is no tidbit of information that we might gain from torture that is worth descending into barbarity.

Posted by: Jim H at December 6, 2005 10:32 PM

I have two previous posts on the subject, although they are brief:

My opinion is I would torture someone. Here are the "conditions":
- I believe they possessed that would save lives
- I needed the information quickly

No only would I perform the torture, but I would do so even it it were illegal and I knew I would be imprisoned later.

I believe that saving lifes is more important than my freedom or the freedom of the person withholding the information. And I refer to the other's freedoms as those like "freedom from pain".

But there is a distinction of torture that I would use. There are five types: 1. Chemical 1a. Destructive 1b. Non-Destructive 2. Physical 2a. Permanent Damage 2b. Non-Permanent Damage 3. Environmental .. (e.g. loud noises, sensation deprivation, bright lights, sleep deprivation, scare tactics.) 4. Personality Manipulation . . (e.g. Brainwashing) 5. Non-Party-Member
.. (e.g. Torture family members to coerce person. Ironic that the term is "Party".

Given the above requirements, I would support:

1a. Non-Damaging Chemicals are the hands down favorite. A good food-based or inhalent (e.g. cigarette additive) is ideal. But these can take time to take effect.

2a. Non-Permanet Damage is rarely effective because most people have high-pain tolerances. In order to get above that, Permanent Damage is required. Which I don't support. An added note is that hardened criminals, terrorists, and druggies are impervious to this as they can withstand immense pain and will pass out before conversing.

3. Environmental is most effective (although still in the "poor" category. Sleep Dep. is very effective, but it takes time; 5-10 days.

Under no conditions would I support 4 or 5. But it is accepted that if a group of persons were in this situation, it is assumed that all would be tortured, and all would know probably of it. (Or extrapolate that the others were being tortured as well.) This would - technically - violate #5, but I don't think of it as applicable.

Keep in mind that torture is not pratical. Other than high-ranking, hard core operatives, most don't know anything. Those that are not versed in capture situtations will tell all they know just from conversation. They get nervous and slip little details. Over 75% of people in these situations don't need torture. Just conversation. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean torture is 25% successful. If someone doesn't know what you are looking for and they expire during the process, it cannot be determined if they knew or didn't.

Given all that, I do support torture, but note that there are many restrictions on the use, many elements that make it worthwhile, and do not expect postive results. And I'm willing to go to jail if I decide it's worth the effort and risk.


Something else to think about; as I mentioned in one of my above posts, Military recruits endure more difficult experiences than most of what I've seen complained about.

And, finally, I don't think our policy is irrelevant to an enemy. They all believe that we do torture prisoners and that we brainwash them. So it doesn't matter what we do - an opponent will believe we do it, so they will.

(I'm probably de-invited now, eh?)

Posted by: _Jon at December 6, 2005 11:17 PM

_Jon, Of course you aren't. I wanted to hear it. I wanted to know what people thought. And I remember your posts now that you said that. I remember them well.

Posted by: Bou at December 6, 2005 11:22 PM

... torture is relative.... one could say that "training" recruits in our own military is torture if one were so inclined... perspective, she is a fickle beast...

... gaining information?.. that should come from skill.... not brutality.... anyone who has been through a few of the hardcore schools in our US Military can vouch for that.. skill wins out every time...

... but, hey... in the end, we are all animals.... it is all a matter of moral high ground...

Posted by: Eric at December 6, 2005 11:59 PM

Part depends on how you define torture. A fraternity hazing meets most current definitions of torture. Basic ROTC activities meet the current definitions of torture. What many medical students (or insert other type here) go through in terms of internships and what they are required to do meet current definitions of torture.

Methinks the definition needs to be revisited.

Brutality is what most think of when the word torture is used: the acid drips, fingernails pulled, rape, broken bones, blow torches, and more. The things used by Saddam and still in use elsewhere today.

Brutality will get people to talk and scream. It also tends to get you unusable info since most people will end up saying whatever they think you want to hear, not the truth. This can be easily proven time and time again by reading first-hand accounts from ancient times to the various inquisitions to today.

Interrogation is not torture. It can and does take time, even if drugs are used.

I have no problem with interrogation, even rigorous interrogation, and the use of pleasure (which works far better than brutality).

I have severe problems with the use of brutality. That is not our way. Would I use it to prevent a nuclear device from going off? Yes, and pay the price afterwards. Should it be a regular and approved part of our way of doing things? No. Interrogation works far better and more reliably. I opt for the moral high ground, and better results.

Posted by: Laughing Wolf at December 7, 2005 06:22 AM

The common thread here seems to be brutality=torture and in that case it is not condoned. And I think that is my mindset... when I think of torture, I DO think of brutality because that is what *I* know of torture.

And that was what I think perhaps I have been dwelling upon. I've been thinking, "60% of Americans condone brutality?" That's been pretty tough for me to swallow.

But some of the other instances that have been mentioned by everyone, yeah, I have to say, I'm OK with that. It doesn't seem to fit into *my* 'torture' definition. Skill... as Eric put it.

Posted by: Bou at December 7, 2005 06:55 AM

I suspect you have read what I have written already, but here is the latest in my repeated series of posts on the topic.

Torture is easy to define, I have done so in my many posts on the matter, and torture is immoral, always. If we "reserve the right" of any part of our government to engage in torture, then we are no longer "the good guys" we like to think of ourselves as, but just another group of thugs with their own relative morality.

Posted by: Jack at December 7, 2005 07:17 AM

I imagine the following situation:

My mother is going to be killed shortly. I have someone in front of me who knows how, when, where, and who will do it. Is there anything I won't do to this person to obtain that knowledge?


Posted by: Ogre at December 7, 2005 07:19 AM

My thinking is close to Ogre's on this subject. If the danger is significant, for example a loved one in danger of being killed or of New York City being nuked, then I'd be willing to go anywhere or do anything to prevent it. If that "anything" is sticking a bad guy in a small room with the thermostat set at 33 degrees and the Playboy channel running 24/7, is that torture? Slowly dipping the bad guy in a vat of acid, now that's pretty definitely torture. All the things in between those two? Depends on the context, I guess.

If the actions I take to prevent an unacceptable loss would mean I've broken the law, so be it - I'll take my chances at trial. If I've violated God's law and wind up going to hell as a result, so be it. I think we will be judged by what we do and by what we do not do, and I would rather be a torturer and save NYC than to keep my hands clean (and my soul unblemished) and have a million people vaporized. I keep thinking about how I would feel if my wife and child died in such an attack, and I knew someone could have acted to stop it, even if that action was barbaric. If anyone threatens my family they'd better hope God really is on their side, because they'll need all the help they can get, and there would be no limit to the pain I'd be willing to inflict on them, either as prevention of or in retaliation for such an act. I will risk my immortal soul to protect the people I love. Can I ask those defending my country to do the same?

Posted by: Bob at December 7, 2005 08:00 AM

Based on your wishes, I have not read any other comments, just to keep me from wanting to respond to anything anyone else says. I also will not go back and re-read the comments. So after I make this I won't come back to this post.

There are many different forms of torture, so based on the vagueness of the situation given I need to go into torture as I see it.

First you have psychological torture. You adjust the persons environment (loud music, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement), use psychology to trick them into believing you are torturing others and they are next, alter their diet, etc.

Second you have superficial physical torture. This is where you physically hurt someone, but they will recover from any physical damage in a relatively short period of time.

Third you have disfiguring physical torture. This person will never physically function the same again after the torture is over.

With that being said. Unfortunately I can see times when all three forms of torture may be necessary and used. If 5 years ago someone told me they had an individual that has information that could prevent the deaths of thousands of Americans (with collaborating evidence) and they wanted me to torture them to get the info, I would have done it. Would I have lost sleep? Maybe, but then again maybe not. Maybe the greater good of it would be enough to sooth my soul.

Is their a double standard? possibly, unfortunately torture is one of those necessary evils that will never go away. If we aren't torturing the enemy, then the enemy will be torturing us.

Posted by: Contagion at December 7, 2005 08:20 AM

Interrogation is necessary. Torture (of the brutal kind) may or may not be depending upon the circumstances and what is at stake.

In the end, though, torture (whether justified or not) diminishes the torturer. And he will have to live with that for the rest of his life. Even if he saved lives by obtaining information from torturing someone, he will have to look at himself in the mirror every day thereafter -- and try to deal with the immorality of his actions.

Posted by: Dave at December 7, 2005 08:38 AM

Looking for a distinguishing difference between "us" and "them", I can't help but remember a gentleman I knew that was a POW in WWII. He would occassionally tell stories of his treatment by the Germans, and it was horrifying. He weighed 95 lbs. when he was finally released. Another heart-tugger is the book Ghost Soldiers, which is about the POWs left in Bataan. The Japanese were beyond brutal.
Even with all the horror stories in the (spit) media about alleged US abuses, I can not believe that we are anywhere near as ruthless as our enemies have been. Maybe I'm just too willing to believe that America is inherently good, but for me, the difference is intent. Doing something that is disturbing but necessary, or torturing for the sheer hell of it.

Posted by: Raging Mom at December 7, 2005 10:01 AM

It all seems to boil down to the definition of torture. Most if not all of what we were accused of in the prisons in Iraq to me is more like frat-house hazing, not torture. Sleep deprivation and psycological games aren't "torture" in my book.

Real torture implies brutality. First, we're supposed to be better that that. Second, if all I've read is correct, brutality doesn't result in good intelligence anyway, since the person you're torturing will say whatever you want to hear to make the pain go away. So what's the point?

Posted by: George at December 7, 2005 11:25 AM

I agree fully with what _Jon, Eric and LW said, they couldn't have said it any better than what I would have said.

Posted by: Machelle at December 7, 2005 01:20 PM

Bou: I read somewhere that something like 60% of all Americans think that some form of torture is OK. I’m having a tough time wrapping my mind around this.

The question the poll asked is specific:

"How do you feel about the use of torture against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism activities?"

The responses (shown as percentages) for the 1,001 polled in US were as follows:

Often be justified (11)
Sometimes be justified (27)
Rarely be justified (23)
Never be justified (36)
Not sure (3)

(If the pollster provides a breakdown of what segment of the population was polled, an explanation of how it was conducted OR a definition of what torture is, I haven't spotted it.)

But you asked for my opinion.

I'm with the 27 percent who believe that given a specific threat, torture to obtain information that can protect people or save their lives is sometimes be justified.

But what's torture? Is it sleep deprivation? Too hot? Too cold? Water-boarding? Rice Pilaf on the menu too often?

If I knew, I might even drop into the "Rarely" category, which is included in the "over 60 percent" figure the media's been using.

Why the change? Because the AP-IPSOS poll stated suspects.

Now, I'm gonna go see what everyone else writ.

Posted by: Doyle at December 7, 2005 05:57 PM

Blast! I don't have time now to read all the comments...

First of all, you have to remember that this is a poll... what kind of people answered this question? the question being - do you approve of torture...

Did they define torture when they were asking? It is an unfortunate circumstance that the media has been portraying just about any interrogation on the part of the US as torture... even going so far as to make up stories (flushing of the Koran) and setting this under the heading of torture too...

Now, considering so many people in this world have absolutely no idea of where their own country is located on the globe - not to mention having zero idea of the history of our country and the world. It shouldn't surprise anyone that these same people... when asked a question about torture - look at what they've been seeing on TV about the military and torture and how prisoners are kept at Guantanimo (sorry if I spelled that wrong) and think... "well - that doesn't sound very bad to me - what's the problem?"

I have decided that Scot Adams (Dilbert Blog) has the right idea about opinion pollsters...

"The only polls I want to see are ones that exclusively includes the people in the top .01% of intelligence who are also highly informed on whatever topics the polls include."

I think he's on to something there!

Posted by: Teresa at December 7, 2005 06:00 PM

I believe in fighting the enemy to win. I pretty much agree with Jon, he laid it out so eloquently.

I don't believe that most Americans ar war are in the habit of routinely torturing people and most of us thought we had been able to progress beyond that with the advent of the Geneva convention. In the situation we are in now, these people are serious about killing as many Americans as they possibly can and the simplicity and brilliance of the 9/11 plan was scary. We do need information. I asked a friend of mine his opinions on those things and he sent me a picture. I will share it with you if you like, it said a lot to me, but it's not for the squeamish. Necessary evil is what torture brings to mind, as very sad as it makes me to say it.

Posted by: Kelly at December 8, 2005 07:35 AM

I'm late to this, but here's my 2 cents.

The wording of the poll lets people put their own spin on things. This is why so many responses lead off with the question "How do you define torture?" Many people immediately think like Ogre, of a specific instance where quick information is necessary to protect a life or lives. The major problem, as I see it, is that criteria isn't always being met. But that's just the beginning.

There was a famous experiment done in the 60s I believe where the subject were broken arbitrarily into 2 groups, one acting as prisoners and one acting as guards. They were left to interact with each other under these conditions. The study hgad to be terminated early because the "guards" quickly started to degrade and abuse the "prisoners". Even though it was all pretend for a study, the very act of putting one human being in control of another had the immediate effect of bringing out aggressive and abusive behavior.

If we tell our military people that it's ok to "Take the kid's gloves off", then what stops things from spiraling out of control? So at first a guard threatens a prisoner with a dog to get information. Then the next guy actually sics the dog on the prisoner. The first act isn't torture, the second act is. But one is simply a logical next step from the other.

Torture should never be used as punishment. Torture should never be used as a regular way of getting information. Even borderline torture methods should only be used sparingly. In an extraordinary case like the proverbial suitcase bomb and only one person knows where it is, then perhaps it could be used, and I would hope that the person who "extracted" the information would be excused for the use of excessive force. but rape, sodomy, beatings, waterboarding, and perhaps even stress positions should not be used. Ever.

Posted by: Scott at December 8, 2005 11:48 AM

I have two problems with torture.

The first is that it's immoral and so is a) wrong and b) damaging to the ones who do it. If we say we are a society that values human life and abhors suffering, then how can we turn around and say to someone "you hurt that person, hurt them lots"?

The second is that it's known not to work. Not for getting information anyway.

Torturers hear what their victim thinks they want to hear. If they don't hear what they want to hear, then the victim tries again, and eventually will get it right and the pain will stop.

The torturer can't know that what they got was the right answer - if they knew they wouldn't need to torture. So they get an answer, and they have to work out of it's true or not. Mostly they'll stop when they hear what they think is true. So what's been gained?

Far more reliable to get the person's guard down, to work on them to the point where they let things slip that you can cross-correlate with what you already know. Proper interrogation in other words. Questioning that has a higher chance of getting useful information rather than whatever the bod thinks will work to get the pain to stop.

If the victim knows what needs to be done to stop your mother being killed, and tells you "do this", do you do it? If you only have one chance, and time is running out, what the hell makes you think that you are getting the real deal? Why on earth would they tell you the right information? You've just shown them exactly how you feel about them, you've given them no reason at all to do anything to you but screw you over as you screwed them.

If you torture, you are making yourself into something most humans despise, for no good reason.

Posted by: Zebee at December 8, 2005 11:45 PM

First, as others have said, and some others seem to not understand, not everything that's unpleasant, or degrading, or that would be illegal if done to an American in our justice system, it torture. That makes talking about torture harder, because some people want to include every technique they don't like in this one concept, so it will be tainted by association.

Sleep deprivation for a day or two? Not torture. For a month? Torture. Burlap sack on the head for a day? No. For a month? Yes. Smearing with blood or feces? Not torture. Forced to stand naked with other men? Not torture? Forced to stand naked in front of women? Still not torture? Having your holy book desecrated? Not torture. Having your arms wrenched out of their sockets? Torture. And so forth.

Second, few people have acknowledged the different kinds or uses of torture. Most talk about torture for information. This almost never works. If information is your goal, even if time is short, there are more effective techniques than torture to get it.

But there is also torture for punishment. If Mohammed Atta had somehow survived the attack that killed 3000 people on 9/11, would he have deserved torture as well as death? Scott says "no", but I say that this is a case where torture as punishment is clearly warranted. Should Ted Bundy have been tortured for his actions? 30 separate murders, at least? Yes he should have.

Torture is extreme, even more than death, and any use of it should be strictly and carefully controlled. That doesn't mean that there aren't some limited circumstances where it is the right thing to do.

Posted by: Craig Ewert at December 9, 2005 04:08 PM

I have tried, but (for bizarre reasons) have failed, to post a comment here on some of the comments above. So I have put it instead on my own blog: please see


Posted by: Brian at December 10, 2005 07:48 AM