Theo, you've lost your soul on this one, and it's a shame. Now before I begin, I must say that I understand we cannot convince one another of the veracity and righteousness of our diametrically opposed positions. But I begin because it's important to me that my country's honor remain what it has been militarily since our Army's first commander. Torture is beneath us as a society.
There is room for debate about whether torture works. The answer is "it depends". Clearly it sometimes works, but there's an efficiency issue. We also know that it produces volumes of misinformation and that someone being tortured rather quickly reaches a point where he guesses and tells you what he thinks you want to hear.
THe problem with debating whether torture works or not is that it's a deontological argument (torture). Should we do it because it's effective? Should we not do it because it's ineffective? That's a factual issue (that's hard to study objectively). I don't believe we should torture, but I don't base my argument on whether it works, because if it turns out it works at some level that some people can tolerate, I have no justification for opposition to it.
Before we begin, let's start with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Because when you argue that the Geneva Conventions do not apply, you're mistaken.
(see bold below, emphasis mine)
In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions:
1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
2. The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.
An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention. The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.
The United States is a "High Contracting Party" which is to say, a signatore.
There is a justification being used out there that because Taliban militia and Al Qaeda are 'non-uniformed combatants' that they are ineligible to the rights assigned by the Geneva Convention. No, not true at all. The United States signed this and is responsible for upholding the conduct prescribed therein. In fact, the Geneva Convention has classification for extra-national conflict... It was inconvenient for Bush-Cheney, so a loophole was imagined and argued. And if you lie long enough, some people will believe it eventually...
Now, I'm against torture because it is the most serious step down the road to police state that nations witness.
I could have respect for the torture-advocates if they had the courage to show what is being done in our name, the consistency to share what advantage torture brings, and the respect for the rule of law to allow oversight by the separate but equal branches of power.
It is the very fact that advocates of torture don't want it seen that reveals several things:
First and foremost, it reveals cowardice the likes of which revolts me like very little else. Remember my earlier breakdown of Theo's recitation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men,
"You can't handle the truth." My point on that quote is that it actually reveals the speaker can't handle the way outsiders will judge his version of 'the truth.' Civilized people will view the new photographs with justifiable outrage and question the depravity of what they see, and the cowards who torture don't want to be seen wearing their mom's underwear, so they do it in the closet.
But moreover, it displays a contempt for checks and balances that have made the United States the greatest bastion for freedom the world has yet to know. Our country is founded on institutionalized power, so that individuals cannot abuse too much, that power is separated and reviewable by two other entities.
Bush's torture program became a tribally led system where you do what the tribe leader demands without question. This, in fact, is the backward system that Al Qaida uses. So kudos to your tribe, Theo, you're one step lower on the civilization ladder and trying to drag the 80 percent of us who aren't in the Republican Tribe down with you.
The pattern of the Bush war years was that the executive had carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in any circumstance for which he believed he was protecting Americans. Invariably, like comparisons to Nazis and Godwin's Law, the torture advocates bring up the 'ticking time bomb' scenario which is a construct by which everyone's grandmother can see that torture is required. It puts all the pieces together and says "Person X KNOWS where the bomb is and can stop it." The reality is much more messy.
Such things as "is this guy even a combatant that we've held for 5 years in Gitmo?" and "is this information he's screaming out while I have him dangling from handcuffs from the ceiling for the third day - is it reliable?
I find it particularly humorous when the military veterans say torture saves them. The fact is that when both sides give and accept quarter, backed with humane treatment in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, combatants lay down their arms and surrender. Conversely, when a combatant believes he's going to be maimed and tortured, he's a somewhere between a lot more likely and certain not to surrender. In fact, he'll fight that much harder.
So when someone says "torture saves our military personnel's life" they're completely overlooking the firefight intensity that may be seen on the front line.
The Russian Front (compared to the Western Front) in world war 2 is a terrific example of quarter/no quarter. Read any Steven Ambrose piece and you'll see examples of US and Tommies arranging cease-fires to extract the wounded, and of doctors from each side treating enemy wounded with great reverence in their care. Conversely, the surrounded Germans at Stalingrad held out from November 17 1942 to late February 1943 without resupply. When Stalingrad was surrounded, it's estimated 650,000 Germans were in the pocket. When Stalingrad was captured, 91.000 remained alive (of those 91,000, only 5,000 would ever return from captivity, and most of them returned in the mid 1950s - is that where we're headed Theo?). It must also be noted that as the Soviets squeezed the life out of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, the Soviets tied down a great deal of combat power, and that collection of combat power was not available to drive past Kharkov in January/February 1943, which led to Von Mannstein's February/March offensive that destroyed 3 Russian armies, retook Kharkov (and Belgorod) and set up the summer offensive at Kursk. But I get a little geeky about World War 2 - suffice it to say, for the guy facing down a rifle, it's generally better that his enemy have an incentive to surrender.
Sure, AQ is a bit different, but let's remember the Sunni Awakening was the key element of the Surge, and it was brokered by treating 'enemies' as worthy of respect.
In Afghanistan, leadership is assessing how to separate tribes from loyalty to insurgency networks. I personally think it's probably a bad idea for our armed forces to continue denegrating Muslims by throwing them in women's clothes and mock-attacking them with dogs, let alone beating them to death, freezing them to near death, and keeping them standing for a week without respite.
Toture dehumanizes - far more than war itself, actually. The point of torture is to allow the frustrations of people like Theo an outlet on the helpless. THe point of torture is to deligitimize someone's humanity. It is unbridled sadism masquerading in the dark where no one can see it, shrouded in euphemism and defended by school-yard bullies. It is utter disgrace.
The problem with our two wars is not that we're too civilized for our Yeti-mountain-living enemies, the problem is that our strategy this many years into the GWOT isn't working (which probably has a great deal to do with the fact that we got involved in Iraq unnecessarily, which, like Stalingrad, diverted necessary resources away from a tactically critical theater). Instead of fighting smarter and better, we're now going to cheat and in so doing compromise a core military value over 200 years old...
If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.