Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Definition of Torture

During the course of the U.S. War on Terror, much has been made about how the U.S. has treated various detainees and prisoners of war. In 2004 the Abu-Graihb prison abuse scandal broke over the airwaves and we had pictures of American troops with Iraqi prisoners on leashes, being covered in hoods, and being subjected to sleep deprivation. The response to these events followed a partisan flavor with the Democrats screaming that we have betrayed human rights to some Republicans equating it to Pledge Week at the local university. Now, I think hazing in college is wrong and fairly ignorant, so yes I think the prisoner abuse in Iraq was wrong and I think the line is probably being crossed with some of the methods being used at Guatanamo Bay. That being said, the first witnesses in the trial of former Iraqi President Suddam Hussein and his co-horts offered us a horrific glimpse of what real torture is like:

One man, Ahmed Hassan Mohammed testified:

I swear by God, I walked by a room and . . . saw a grinder with blood coming
out of it and human hair underneath...

My brother was given electric shocks while my 77-year-old father watched
. . . One man was shot in the leg. . . Some were crippled because they had arms and legs broken.

[Melbourne Herald Sun]

A woman, from behind a screen in fear for her life offered this chilling testimony:

"I was forced to take off my clothes, and he raised my legs up and tied up my hands. He continued administering electric shocks and beating me," she said of Wadah al-Sheik, an Iraqi intelligence officer who died of cancer last month. Several times, the woman - hidden behind a light blue curtain - broke down.

"God is great. Oh, my Lord!" she moaned, her voice electronically deepened and

She strongly suggested she had been raped, but did not say so outright. When Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin asked her about the "assault," she said: "I was beaten up and tortured by electrical shocks."

The witness, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, repeated that she had been ordered to undress.

"I begged them, but they hit with their pistols," she said. "They
made me put my legs up. There were five or more, and they treated me like a

"Is that what happens to the virtuous woman that Saddam speaks
about?" she wept, prompting the judge to advise her to stick to the facts.

While I will grant that the U.S. Military is far from being sanctified concerning matters of this nature, what has happened during various points of the War on Terror pales in comparison to the brutality of Hussein and his minions. It also should be noted that in some cases, the actions the U.S. Military takes are against true terrorists and enemy combatants who may have information which would save lives or are simply too dangerous to be released. What Hussein did, he did against innocent civilians who are had no voice or no means to resist. For whatever reasons we went to war, we cannot be too unhappy with the idea that his monster is no longer in power and continuing this campaign of horror.
It is also important that the U.S be above board on these issues in an effort to maintain credibility or just for the sake of moral responsibility.

The problem, as you suggest at the end, is that we don't know what the U.S. has been responsible for or has condoned or has intentionally ignored for the sake of extracting information.

The thing about torture is that it does not work. And all that Jack Bauer 24 stuff is pure Hollywood fantasy. If a bomb is about to go off in a matter of hours, don't you think a committed terrorist, who is willing to die for his mission, would hold out even under the most extreme pain? (Perhaps not, but it's certainly conceivable given the jihadist mindset of militant Islamists.)

And Hussein's torture was done not to extract information, but to produce terror, to force Iraqis into utter subservience. So on one hand, that could be a significant distinction to make. But then, on the other hand, do we even want the slightest association with such methods?
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