Torture vesus tough interrogation

ABC news recently aired a segment on CIA interrogation techniques used in Afghanistan and Iraq to extract information from terrorists. As usual, the American interrogators and the Bush Administration were portrayed as crossing the line, violating international law, and using techniques that are overly harsh and ineffective. Before delving deeper into the flaws of the report it is useful to examine what are the differences between torture and tough interrogation.

Torture is defined as inflicting severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion. Severe physical pain could be loosely described as unbearable or excruciating pain. Not all pain or wounds inflicted by someone upon another would, thus, amount to torture. A punch, pinch, or slap, while degrading and painful, cannot seriously be considered as torture. Electric shocks, extracting finger nails with pliers, cutting, and burning would be techniques of torture, and those that are used by our enemies. Saddam Hussein was famous for his brutal treatment of prisoners. Indeed, who could forget the downed pilots from the Gulf War who were shown on TV before the world with swollen and bruised faces.

Interrogation can be defined as an examining by formal or direct questions. A harsh interrogation could described as an unpleasant, rough, disagreeable, or exacting series of questions. Any rational observer would admit that there is a pronounced difference between interrogation and torture. I do not believe that the American government officially or unofficially sanctions torture. However, I believe that circumstances could exist where virtually any degree of torture could be justified in order to save lives (i.e. the ticking nuke in major city).

ABC News described the interrogation techniques used by CIA officers as "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques". The report did not specifically state the techniques used were torture, but it definitely gives the reader the impression that the CIA was/is going to far in its interrogation of terrorists. The report lists six techniques used by interrogators to extract information, each of which increases in intensity.

The six techniques are:

1. The attention grab — forcefully grabbing a prisoner by the shirt or shoulders.

2. The attention slap — an open handed slap.

3. The belly slap — an open handed slap on the stomach.

4. Long time standing — forcing a prisoner to stand in handcuffs with feet shackled for 40 hours or more.

5. The Cold Cell — standing in a cell with the temperature near 50 degrees naked for an extended period of time.

6. Water Boarding — elevating the feet of a prisoner slightly above his head, wrapping the face in cellophane and pouring water on the face to trigger the gag reflex.

While none of the listed techniques sounds pleasant, only the sixth would come even close to being "torture". Prisoners of War from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War would be able to give vivid examples of far harsher treatment that would undeniably amount to torture. Some believe that "all is fair in love and war", but the United States has never subscribed to this idea.

The United States has historically tried to avoid civilian casualties (or collateral damage) with some exceptions in order to bring conflicts to a quicker end (i.e. Hiroshima/Nagasaki). German and Italian soldiers at the end of World War Two were eager to surrender to American and British forces for the far better treatment they would receive in comparison to that of the Soviets. The Gulf War also showed the willingness of Iraqi soldiers to surrender and be assured of food, water, and medical treatment that could not even guaranteed by their own officers.

While all is not permissible because the US is at war, certainly more is permissible than is during peacetime. Roughing up prisoners to save American lives and those of our allies is nothing to apologize for. The ABC News report also suggests that Water boarding amounts to a mock execution which is illegal under international law. This is a debatable point. Although water boarding is undoubtedly a horrible and frightening experience, it is different than having an unloaded gun pointed at an individual and the trigger being pulled. Such a technique is certainly a mock execution which would violate the Geneva Conventions.

Those detained in the War on Terror are not deserving of the protection of the Geneva Convention in the first place since they do not wear a uniform which identifies them from civilians, nor are they members of an organized military. The Third Geneva Convention also states that "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." It also states in article 60 that POW's shall be given a monthly advance of pay. Please.

War is hell, and if we weren't slapping around a few Al Qaida scum bags the prospects of us actually winning the war would be doubtful. ABC News' report shows just how out of touch the main stream media is with the American public. According to a Newsweek poll conducted on November 10—11, 2005, only 33% of Americans believe torture can never be justified to extract information from terrorists. The same poll showed that 58% would support the use of torture if it might prevent a major terrorist attack. Americans are not, and should not be, all that concerned about terrorists being forced to stand for long periods of time in temperatures that would be considered warm in Minnesota or being deprived of sleep for long periods of time which our soldiers also do in the service of their country.

We should avoid using torture if possible, and we do. America has always defended the dignity of human beings and has shed much blood in the pursuit of freedom and human rights. Despite the horror of torture, we should not allow our enemies to believe that we will never use it to defend our interests, security, citizens, or allies.

No physical or mental torture,  nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."


Jonathan D. Strong, Esq.

ABC news recently aired a segment on CIA interrogation techniques used in Afghanistan and Iraq to extract information from terrorists. As usual, the American interrogators and the Bush Administration were portrayed as crossing the line, violating international law, and using techniques that are overly harsh and ineffective. Before delving deeper into the flaws of the report it is useful to examine what are the differences between torture and tough interrogation.

Torture is defined as inflicting severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion. Severe physical pain could be loosely described as unbearable or excruciating pain. Not all pain or wounds inflicted by someone upon another would, thus, amount to torture. A punch, pinch, or slap, while degrading and painful, cannot seriously be considered as torture. Electric shocks, extracting finger nails with pliers, cutting, and burning would be techniques of torture, and those that are used by our enemies. Saddam Hussein was famous for his brutal treatment of prisoners. Indeed, who could forget the downed pilots from the Gulf War who were shown on TV before the world with swollen and bruised faces.

Interrogation can be defined as an examining by formal or direct questions. A harsh interrogation could described as an unpleasant, rough, disagreeable, or exacting series of questions. Any rational observer would admit that there is a pronounced difference between interrogation and torture. I do not believe that the American government officially or unofficially sanctions torture. However, I believe that circumstances could exist where virtually any degree of torture could be justified in order to save lives (i.e. the ticking nuke in major city).

ABC News described the interrogation techniques used by CIA officers as "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques". The report did not specifically state the techniques used were torture, but it definitely gives the reader the impression that the CIA was/is going to far in its interrogation of terrorists. The report lists six techniques used by interrogators to extract information, each of which increases in intensity.

The six techniques are:

1. The attention grab — forcefully grabbing a prisoner by the shirt or shoulders.

2. The attention slap — an open handed slap.

3. The belly slap — an open handed slap on the stomach.

4. Long time standing — forcing a prisoner to stand in handcuffs with feet shackled for 40 hours or more.

5. The Cold Cell — standing in a cell with the temperature near 50 degrees naked for an extended period of time.

6. Water Boarding — elevating the feet of a prisoner slightly above his head, wrapping the face in cellophane and pouring water on the face to trigger the gag reflex.

While none of the listed techniques sounds pleasant, only the sixth would come even close to being "torture". Prisoners of War from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War would be able to give vivid examples of far harsher treatment that would undeniably amount to torture. Some believe that "all is fair in love and war", but the United States has never subscribed to this idea.

The United States has historically tried to avoid civilian casualties (or collateral damage) with some exceptions in order to bring conflicts to a quicker end (i.e. Hiroshima/Nagasaki). German and Italian soldiers at the end of World War Two were eager to surrender to American and British forces for the far better treatment they would receive in comparison to that of the Soviets. The Gulf War also showed the willingness of Iraqi soldiers to surrender and be assured of food, water, and medical treatment that could not even guaranteed by their own officers.

While all is not permissible because the US is at war, certainly more is permissible than is during peacetime. Roughing up prisoners to save American lives and those of our allies is nothing to apologize for. The ABC News report also suggests that Water boarding amounts to a mock execution which is illegal under international law. This is a debatable point. Although water boarding is undoubtedly a horrible and frightening experience, it is different than having an unloaded gun pointed at an individual and the trigger being pulled. Such a technique is certainly a mock execution which would violate the Geneva Conventions.

Those detained in the War on Terror are not deserving of the protection of the Geneva Convention in the first place since they do not wear a uniform which identifies them from civilians, nor are they members of an organized military. The Third Geneva Convention also states that "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." It also states in article 60 that POW's shall be given a monthly advance of pay. Please.

War is hell, and if we weren't slapping around a few Al Qaida scum bags the prospects of us actually winning the war would be doubtful. ABC News' report shows just how out of touch the main stream media is with the American public. According to a Newsweek poll conducted on November 10—11, 2005, only 33% of Americans believe torture can never be justified to extract information from terrorists. The same poll showed that 58% would support the use of torture if it might prevent a major terrorist attack. Americans are not, and should not be, all that concerned about terrorists being forced to stand for long periods of time in temperatures that would be considered warm in Minnesota or being deprived of sleep for long periods of time which our soldiers also do in the service of their country.

We should avoid using torture if possible, and we do. America has always defended the dignity of human beings and has shed much blood in the pursuit of freedom and human rights. Despite the horror of torture, we should not allow our enemies to believe that we will never use it to defend our interests, security, citizens, or allies.

No physical or mental torture,  nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."


Jonathan D. Strong, Esq.