by Patrick Todd, past Editor-In-Chief
My personal definition of torture is anything that causes permanent or serious damage to the body. Examples would include cutting off parts of someones body. I would actually be a little less stringent than that and include stuff like pulling fingernails, breaking bones and electrocution that people would arguably fully recover from into the category of torture.
From a practical standpoint, it has been shown that when you induce massive amounts of pain, the recipient of torture will generally tell you what you want to hear and may not actually be true or useful. During the Cold War, Communist governments often would torture people into confessing crimes (being an enemy of the state, for example) whether or not that would actually be true. Now, if you are actually trying to ascertain whether this person did indeed commit the act for which he is being accused, a forced and possibly false confession is not useful.
The U.S. conducts interrogations generally in order to extract useful intelligence from an individual. Therefore, false or forced statements given under duress is not useful to us. This is why we don’t engage in torture. What the U.S. does do is place subjects of interrogation under significant psychological stress. What we want to do is get the person to crack and break through their mental firewalls that they put up to keep us from the information we want. If they aren’t thinking clearly they will have less resistance to telling us the information we want. This is why breaking down cultural foundations with techniques such as forced nudity, humiliation, and cultural desecration are useful and necessary techniques.
It was reported that a lower level Taliban member gave up the locations of several higher level leaders when he was threatened with being buried alive with the remains of pigs. The U.S. Army used female soldiers to engage in simulated sexual acts at the Abu Ghraib prison (separate from the scandal incident) in order to enrage the prisoners. Interrogators have also desecrated the Koran in efforts to cause mental instability among the prisoners at camp X-Ray.
The other main part of the U.S. interrogation doctrine is the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, simulated drowning, stress positions, isolation, loud music and other techniques to break the people being interrogated of their mental barriers. These techniques have been highly successful in gaining useful and usable intelligence from detained people. A report released last week said that those very techniques were used to stop a plot to fly a plane into the Library Tower building in Los Angeles.
I think useful questions to ask (and my answers) are does the U.S. engage in torture? No. Should the U.S. engage in torture? No as well.