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Torture , from Auntie Sally

I watched the four Corners program last night and the thing that disappointed me was that the program did not really get to the nub of the question at all . That question is just what does constitute torture?

JOHN RADSAN, ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL TO THE CIA, 2002-04: The administration says that we don’t torture people. They don’t give us a clear definition or their definition of what torture is.

So it’s going to be back and forth between the lawyers at the CIA, lawyers at the Justice Department that that are interpreting these statues, the torture statute, the amendments, or the guidance I should say from the Military Commissions Act, to figure out these tough questions about whether we can do sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, whether we can do things in that intermediate zone of aggressiveness.

JOE MARGULIES, LAWYER FOR GUANTANAMO BAY DETAINEES: All you can get is a declaration that we do not do torture. You cannot get a clarity, a clear answer on what that means.(source)

Sally Neighbour seemed instead to have a very clear anti USA agenda in this program and it would be no surprise that there was no consideration at all in the sort of proclivities of the “other side” when it comes to the treatment of prisoners and attempts to extract information.

 I  want some real debate about just where the boundaries lie here, for although I do not support or advocate torture I do realise that some times it is necessary to “encourage” cooperation and I am as hard pressed as anyone to define where the line between vigorous “encouragement” and torture actually is and this is what needs to be explored by the national broadcaster.  At least here and in the US we think about these issues, elsewhere it is just part of the landscape.

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33 Comments

  1. Rudi says:

    Iain,

    Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as follows:

    “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

    Fans of torture as a means of coercing information seem to adopt the fallacy that information obtained by coercion will be credible as though terrorist who are prepared to die for a cause will spill the truth with some violence. I’d imagine the few circumstances where you’d be tempted to torture – immediate threat with many lives at risk – are exactly when some misinformation would be given.

    Much better to retain the higher ground methinks.

    Rudi

  2. Iain says:

    Sadly Rudi
    That still does not define the point at which the grey area’s become dark enough for us to claim that they are in fact black.

  3. Ollie says:

    Iain

    I find it amusing that you whinge that the program did not delve into the “proclivities” of the “other side”, whilst instead focused on methods used in places such as Guantanamo for extracting evidence. Thus, you declare, the show failed, didn’t reach a conclusion and was biased.

    The point, you silly man, is that blowtorching and electrocution are obviously methods of torture. Don’t need to be a genius to figure that out. No need to debate that. WE ALL KNOW. The real debate and the real issue is that many people (including yourself) don’t understand that other more insiduous methods can also constitute torture – such as hooding, prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, etc.

    Trying to determine where the line is crossed was the whole point of the show. One that you so obviously missed in your rush to criticise the ABC of bias.

  4. Rudi says:

    Iain,

    How about adopting Justice Potter Stewart’s comment on pornography when he noted that while it was hard to define “I know it when I see it”?

    Words are imprecise but acts like dunking under water, threatening to shoot someone, blow torching, suspension with or without electrocution, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation are all torture to me for the simple reason that if someone did any of them to me I would scream torture. (I’d also admit to killing JFK, but that is another matter.)

    By the way, I didn’t see the ABC show last night so cannot comment on whether it was biased or not – its one of the joys of not having a TV.

    Rudi

  5. Steve says:

    The definition of torture is not vague, however agreement about what specific acts or treatments constitute torture are debatable. And there are obviously degrees of severity involved (blow-torching, mutilation or branding are going to be more painful and inflict permanent maiming, whereas water torture, sleep deprivation, endless standing or sodium pentathol may not).

    Whatever you define as torture, it is not just an infringement of human rights but also a notoriously unreliable means of extracting information.

  6. Iain says:

    Olivia
    The whole point of the show was to demonise the Americans which it achieved easily, the point of my post was to suggest that the exploration of where the boundaries actually lay was not considered in enough detail at all and that is the real moral and ethical issue which I am quite open to exploring that here. However there is no need for you to throw a hissy fit because I don’t tow your party line in such things.
    Rudi
    If you go to the link I provided with my quote you can at least read a transcript.
    Steve
    I agree that torture is notoriously unreliable but some less extreme encouragements can produce useful information and as I suggest in the post drawing the line is the trick.

  7. Ollie says:

    Could you do me the courtesy of calling me by the name on my post, rather than some made up name you have hit upon to try and intimidate me or to show how smart you think you are.

    If you are going to respond to me, show some manners and try not to be such a muppet.

    You said in your post that you thought the failure of the program to consider the “proclivities” of the “other side” was a failure of the program. I pointed out that there is no need to study whether or not blow torching or electrocution is torture, because it obviously is. So where is the failure ? Where is the imbalance ? The show was about whether or not certain methods fall within the definition of torture. Quit being oversensitive about anti-US bias and instead give us a rational explanation as to why you think that prolonged solitary confinement, hooding or sleep deprivation is not able to be “torture” ie an act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.

    When you’re ready.

  8. PKD says:

    Iain,
    perhaps you could do us the favour of explaining where you’d draw the line? Frankly it shoud be obvious – torture is unacceptable by any party – FULL STOP!

    Not only is information obtained by
    Doesn’t take much thinking about ‘encouragement’ (to use your phrase) notoriously unreliable, but no system exists that can ensure the subject of the toture knows definitively what you think he knows.

    I.e – that you could easily torture an innocent as easily as a person who really knows what you want.

    That on its own makes any torture an non-starter, let alone the ethics of it all…

    Rgrds,

  9. Legal Eagle says:

    I watched the program too. It made me feel ill.

    I agree with you that it is important to debate these questions and to discuss them openly.

    I suspect the imbalance you perceived in the documentary was caused by something mentioned by Cohen in his book “What’s Left?” in relation to world reporting of the conduct of the Serbian militias and the Baathist Iraqis – it’s so much more difficult to get information out of totalitarian regimes than it is out of liberal democracies.

    It’s very easy to point the finger at the US because, however flawed its practices may be, it is still a liberal democracy and there has to be some kind of scrutiny of its behaviour. Lawyers have to pass opinions on whether it is legal, the press has to be allowed at least some access, there have to be official channels and agreed interview protocols and the like. Further people are free to protest against the US processes without being killed.

    However, what of al Qaeda? Four Corners would not be able to talk to Al Qaeda lawyers (there would be none), talk to Al Qaeda interrogators or film captured Al Qaeda prisoners. It’s not a proper government and it doesn’t have spokesmen. It would probably kill any journalists who tried to infiltrate it for information. So apart from showing the images above, there would be no material for a documentary to discuss. Such organisations do not care whether torture is illegal, and do not care about UN conventions or human rights. Nor do they allow scrutiny of their methods.

    It is much easier for journalists to focus on the US, who profess to respect human rights and to be “the” premier liberal democracy in the world. At least (a) you can prove they are hypocrites and (b) you can get information out of them, and some good interviews and pictures.

    Clearly hanging people from beams by the arms, beating them, cutting them and the like to obtain confessions is torture.

    However, to my mind, there is no doubt that sensory deprivation, waterboarding, locking people in coffin-shaped boxes, making people stand hooded with arms outstretched for hours and the like is torture. Just because there are no marks on the person’s body doesn’t mean it isn’t torture. Such means are devised to instill unreasoning terror into a prisoner and get them to “fess up”.

    There is an unpleasant feeling of vengeance about the use of torture against Guantanamo detainees. Sure, most of them are probably horrible people who would have shed no tears if we were all blown up by terrorist bombs. But the important thing is to distinguish ourselves from these people by our humanity, not to stoop to their level.

    Further, as one of the CIA operatives was explaining, torture is notoriously unreliable. So (a) it’s morally inexcusable and (b) it does not produce the results that people hope for.

    Why not administer truth-telling drugs if there is a desperate emergency and peoples’ lives hang in the balance?

  10. What’s a ‘truth-telling’ drug, and does it mix with tonic?

    I agree with LE that, because the US is more ‘open’, it will be subjected to greater scrutiny than clandestine terrorist networks.

    But it is disturbing that many on the right reject any attempt to subject the US to legitimate scrutiny. It is as if opposing torture by self-proclaimed spreaders of democracy makes ne equivalent to a terrorist-sympathiser. If the US is as great as all that, I’m sure it can withstand a bit of critical interrogation.

  11. PKD says:

    …there is an unpleasant feeling of vengeance about the use of torture against Guantanamo detainees. Sure, most of them are probably horrible people who would have shed no tears if we were all blown up by terrorist bombs.But the important thing is to distinguish ourselves from these people by our humanity, not to stoop to their level.

    Further, as one of the CIA operatives was explaining, torture is notoriously unreliable.

    Hear hear! 🙂

  12. Ollie says:

    I love the irony – condoning the use of certain coercive measures against people in order to garner information, yet condemning any critial analysis of the US, just in case they find out some unpleasant information.

    Amusing, ne pas?

  13. Legal Eagle says:

    Happy,

    Maybe truth telling drugs aren’t so good either, having a quick look at Wikipedia. But torture is unreliable as well, so why not just use drugs instead?

    Alcohol is one of the truth telling drugs, in fact!!! Mmm, I think I’ll have a nice glass of red truth-telling drug with my dinner tonight. You can have your truth-telling drug with tonic if you want.

    I agree it is important to scrutinise the US, because it upholds ideals and should be made to keep to them. I certainly don’t want to apologise for the US. But at least with public pressure such practices can be stamped out, and Bush can be voted out.

    I agree with Iain that it’s important to remember that others also practice torture, it’s just that we have no way of knowing the details because the torture takes place in totalitarian circumstances.

    LE

  14. Iain says:

    0Could you do me the courtesy of calling me by the name on my post, rather than some made up name you have hit upon to try and intimidate me or to show how smart you think you are.

    Olivia
    Until you loose the abusive tone and content in your comments I will call you what ever takes my fancy because in the last two comments you have used condescending personal attacks upon Moi. This is my blog and as far as I’m concerned that is the same as my house and I expect a certain decorum from my visitors and you have exceeded my tolerance for bad manners already.

  15. Iain says:

    LE
    The “torture manual” I link to in this post does give one a rather gruesome picture of what others are doing.
    To my leftist friends
    As I have tried to suggest in this post the question is where to draw the line, for instance is a burly police person vigorously asking questions torture? Is refusing to give someone his or her preferred soap torture? Or is giving them bland tasteless food torture? What about refusing to pander to someone’s religious prejudices by having a male Muslim suspect interviewed by a woman or a homosexual? Is that torture?
    Come on you guys think you have the answers so please share.

  16. Ollie says:

    You are kidding me, right ?

    You avoid my questions, you deliberately attempt to provoke me by trying pathetically to “out” me, you fail to address the critical issues I have raised (hello? when are you going to tell us what your thoughts are about hooding, sleep deprivation, etc), you chuck a narnie about US bias – and then you tell me that I need to “loose” the abusive tone ?

    *snort*

    You’re funny. (I notice you completely failed to address LE’s very incisive and well-thought out post. Avoidy McVoid Void, hmmm)

    Instead of getting huffy, be a man and think about this yourself. You have shown no initiative, sir!

    In answer to your questions above…..

    Is a burly police person vigorously asking questions torture? Obviously, no. But it could be if the burly policeman threatened to kill the suspects children, or broke his arm, or refused to give the suspect food and water for 2 days.

    Is refusing to give someone his or her preferred soap torture? What a childish question.

    Or is giving them bland tasteless food torture? Also a silly question – seriously, are you even engaging your brain here ? Did you read Rudi’s definition of torture above ?

    What about refusing to pander to someone’s religious prejudices by having a male Muslim suspect interviewed by a woman or a homosexual? Is that torture? Hmmmm – probably not – but smearing a Muslim detainee with alleged menstrual blood or pig’s blood, or making male Muslim detainees embrace each other whilst naked, or wear women’s clothes – yes. In my mind, it is subjugating them to humiliation and degradation to an extent that their human rights are breached.

    Your turn. Surprise me !

  17. Iain says:

    You are kidding me, right?

    No I am entirely serious and I have very little tolerance for such whinges

    You avoid my questions, you deliberately attempt to provoke me by trying pathetically to “out” me, you fail to address the critical issues I have raised (hello? when are you going to tell us what your thoughts are about hooding, sleep deprivation, etc), you chuck a narnie about US bias – and then you tell me that I need to “loose” the abusive tone?

    I actually welcome spirited debate but I abhor personal attacks along the lines of those you have directed at me

    *snort*

    Corrective rhinoplasty can fix such breathing difficulties.

    You’re funny. (I notice you completely failed to address LE’s very incisive and well-thought out post. Avoidy McVoid Void, hmmm)

    I actually broadly agree with L E’s points so I feel no need to refute what she has said in her comment.

    Instead of getting huffy, be a man and think about this yourself. You have shown no initiative, sir!

    WTF?? Is this supposed to mean?

    Is a burly police person vigorously asking questions torture? Obviously, no. But it could be if the burly policeman threatened to kill the suspects children, or broke his arm, or refused to give the suspect food and water for 2 days.

    But that was NOT the question I posed was it? I did not suggest that the policeman would be acting thus at all

    Is refusing to give someone his or her preferred soap torture? What a childish question.

    This is a reference to an actual complaint from a detainee at Guantanamo bay so it is not a silly as you suggest..

    Or is giving them bland tasteless food torture? Also a silly question – seriously, are you even engaging your brain here ? Did you read Rudi’s definition of torture above?

    Imagine that you are locked up and you are served the same food for every meal , the term ”doing Porridge” does not come out of thin air you know, so can you imagine that for a week , a month or a year?

    What about refusing to pander to someone’s religious prejudices by having a male Muslim suspect interviewed by a woman or a homosexual? Is that torture? Hmmmm – probably not – but smearing a Muslim detainee with alleged menstrual blood or pig’s blood, or making male Muslim detainees embrace each other whilst naked, or wear women’s clothes – yes. In my mind, it is subjugating them to humiliation and degradation to an extent that their human rights are breached.

    Once again you try to answer a different question to the one I pose , a typical; leftist ploy so why don’t you try again?

    Your turn. Surprise me!

    WTF??? Again sigh

  18. Ollie says:

    Come on, Iain.

    We are all waiting.
    What are your thoughts on what is or is not acceptable and what is or is not torture ?

    You have flapped around like an old chook, pretending to be all offended at my tone, and huffing that I didn’t answer your questions, but I think I have made it pretty clear what I think can be defined as torture.

    But we have heard ne’er a word about your thoughts. Just hot air about how the ABC show was biased and didn’t go far enough.

    So….

    *taps fingers impatiently*

  19. Ollie says:

    Oh, and by the way – read more carefully sir.

    I answered each of your questions quite clearly and then kindly offered you further examples to clarify my position – to encourage debate, even.

    Your screech that I was using some sort of leftist Jedi mind trick is cute, but wrong.

    *skips off to drink chardonnay and frame pictures of Che and Hugo*

  20. Brett_McS says:

    The point of declarations against torture must be that sanctions are applied against those countries that do not follow them. If we set the bar so low that every country is caught in the net, then that is completely pointless. Yes, it would be nice if all forms of torture of whatever conceivable type were outlawed, but that is fantasy. We may as was well declare world peace and be done with it.

    The bar needs to be set at a clear point (such as the examples in this post) where the worst offenders are sanctioned. Then, if mankind ever progresses to where no countries are using such methods then we can move the bar up. Going on about the non-torture torture that the Americans and Israelis use is just moral preening, or worse.

  21. Iain says:

    Olivia
    You are rather like an angry hen here aren’t you? Clucking and squawking because I won’t dance to your tune.

    Come on, Iain.
    We are all waiting.
    What are your thoughts on what is or is not acceptable and what is or is not torture ?

    The point of this post was not for me to pontificate and make some grand definition of what constitutes torture but to highlight the difficulty in doing just that. For leftwing ideologues like yourself it is so easy to make the grand gesture and Moses like give us your definition. I see this question as being very difficult and I am humble enough to admit that I can’t give a precise definition.

    You have flapped around like an old chook, pretending to be all offended at my tone, and huffing that I didn’t answer your questions, but I think I have made it pretty clear what I think can be defined as torture.

    Olivia your manners may be acceptable to Howard, your cat, but I suspect that he only puts up with you because you had him castrated as a kitten and he knows nothing else. The rest of us actually appreciate a bit of courtesy and respect, given that you are not prepared to offer that to me I feel no obligation to treat you with anything other than disdain.

    But we have heard ne’er a word about your thoughts. Just hot air about how the ABC show was biased and didn’t go far enough.
    So….
    *taps fingers impatiently*

    A blog is essentially a venue for its author to state his (or her) opinion I have done that, I offer you, as one of my readers, a chance to comment but you do not get the right to dictate what I write or for that matter what I think so live with it or go away.

    Oh, and by the way – read more carefully sir.
    I answered each of your questions quite clearly and then kindly offered you further examples to clarify my position – to encourage debate, even.
    Your screech that I was using some sort of leftist Jedi mind trick is cute, but wrong.

    No you tried with each of my rhetorical questions to change the point I was making there is nothing of the Jedi in that, but an awful lot of the leftist polemic.

    *skips off to drink chardonnay and frame pictures of Che and Hugo*

    There is many a true word that is spoken in jest…
    Brett
    I like your point here

    The bar needs to be set at a clear point (such as the examples in this post) where the worst offenders are sanctioned. Then, if mankind ever progresses to where no countries are using such methods then we can move the bar up. Going on about the non-torture torture that the Americans and Israelis use is just moral preening, or worse.

    Surely like many pernicious vices we should be seeking to stop the worst examples of torture FIRST .

  22. kg says:

    A simple announcement would do the trick, something along the lines of:
    “we in the West acknowledge that freedom fighters and victims of Western imperialism hold the moral high ground in this fight and henceforth will apply the same standards regarding the use of torture as freedom fighters and victims of Western imperialism everywhere”

  23. Iain says:

    Posted by Liv of Melbourne on Fri 25 Aug 06 at 10:42am
    Andrew says – “But it’s also uncomfortably true that some people sing loudest when squeezed hardest, like it or not.”
    Soooooo….are you saying torture is acceptable when torturing suspected terrorists?
    What about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ? Or the UN Convention Against Torture, which Australia signed in ‘85, ratified in ‘89 ?
    We signed without reservation, which means that there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever where a state can break it’s treaty obligations.
    Please discuss.
    Posted by Liv of Melbourne on Fri 25 Aug 06 at 02:52pm
    Grace, Brad, RMC et al
    You have missed the point of my post. Again.
    Whether I would change my mind if I knew someone personally who was bombed to bits in London (I wouldn’t) and whether I think JJ was tortured in Pakistan (I suspect he may have been) is irrelevant. I don’t expect you guys to care or understand.
    I simply asked brave Mr Bolt if he condones torture. A simple question, one also posed by Steve and JS.
    We await a reply. One with no “buts”.

    Way back in 2006
    Olivia, posting under her other pseudonym (Liv of Melbourne) at Andrew bolt’s blog was seriously suggesting that Jihad Jack Thomas was “tortured “ by the Pakistani police and she was trying to pull the same stroke that she has tried here, namely to suggest that when anyone questions just what constitutes torture that they are “condoning” it.
    I suppose I should give her some credit for consistency , even when it is the consistency of rigid thinking and error of judgement.
    Oh and for the record this is what I said at the time about the case of jack Thomas from the same thread

    Posted by Iain Hall of Queensland on Fri 25 Aug 06 at 01:30pm
    If what Andrew says is correct. It hardly seems like torture to me. Every crim who is being held and questioned by the police is subject to some level of duress and misdirection. And most of them make a calculation of the best way to mitigate the trouble they are in. I seems to me That Jihad Jack decided that he would give the police every thing he could in the hope that he would walk and with the quashing of his conviction he has. However he foolishly told the truth to the ABC and with any luck those free and frank admissions my yet see him where most sensible Australians believe he belongs, serving a long stretch at her majesty’s pleasure.

  24. Iain says:

    Keith you do have a rather wicked sense of humour mate 🙂

  25. Kim says:

    Reading what Olivia writes constitutes torture.

  26. Ollie says:

    aw, how cute – I’ve got my own little internet stalker !!!’

    He’s even doing research on me – and isn’t it sweet how he insists on calling me the name he thinks I have?

    Are you trying to scare me or woo me, Iain?

  27. MK says:

    I like that KG, simple and straight to the point, none of this waffling around.

    Iain, I think I saw a bit of the same program, but I didn’t have the patience you did, as soon as I saw them showing us footage of Nazi Germany, I decided I had seen enough, this is the ABC after all, if it wasn’t anti-American it wouldn’t be the ABC.

  28. Iain says:

    Kim
    I agree, when I could not sleep in the early hours I did a little googling and found a lot of her efforts at Andrew Bolt’s blog where she tries to play the agent provocateur. Her other favorite is Jeremy Sear’s leftist cess pit.
    Olivia
    You came here to my blog and insist on playing the same game that you play at the AB forum. Well I may have a have a reputation for researching the internet antics of those like yourself who seek to take me on. But you over play your hand with the stalking slur. However, I ask you this; why do you clam to work for a corporate Australia but your IP address has a marker for the Victorian Department of Human Services? Do they know that you post harassing comments on conservative websites from the office computers?
    MK
    Yeah I’m a glutton for punishment like that but some one has to do it, so that we can fight the good fight.

  29. Ollie says:

    *standing up and applauding*

    You win, Iain. You are by far the best internet-blogging-researcher-lefty-slayer I have come across.

    I’d best drag my sorry butt away before I am completely ruined, now that you have exposed my “name” and my “workplace”. I’m frightened you are going to post my address and phone number next ! God forbid !

    Thankyou for playing fair and answering my questions, thanks for not stereotyping me and deliberately misinterpreting my posts, and especially thanks for not threatening me in a bullying attempt to avoid real debate.

    I appreciate that.

    Buh-bye!

  30. kg says:

    hmmm…posting from work is theft, in my book. Unless the employer specifically allows it.
    Last place I worked, some of the staff spent their time cruising Ebay and other sites and didn’t seem to understand that it was no different to stealing from their employer.

  31. Iain says:

    You are right Keith there is the bandwidth and the time …
    Tut tut

  32. […] the US. On a few of the blogs I read, there has been a bit of a debate about whether this shows an anti-American […]

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