Talking About Torture

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, September 25, 2006; 12:40 PM

The Republican-led Congress is in an obvious hurry to enact interrogation legislation before the mid-term elections -- even though four days after a much-heralded agreement between the White House and some balky GOP senators, it's still unclear which if any of the CIA's "alternative techniques" such legislation would forbid.

But there are also some voices calling for a more protracted and informed debate about whether torture and other harsh interrogation techniques work and what role they should play in our society.

In my Friday column , I called for a discussion of these issues in the press, if nowhere else. And there are signs such a discussion is beginning.

What Torture Achieves

Chilean novelist and human rights activist Ariel Dorfman writes in The Washington Post's Outlook section with the story of the first torture victim he ever met: "He confessed to anything and everything they wanted to drag from his hoarse, howling throat; he invented accomplices and addresses and culprits; and then, when it became apparent that all this was imaginary, he was subjected to further ordeals.

"There was no escape.

"That is the hideous predicament of the torture victim."

Dorfman concludes: "Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the 'intelligence' that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Chief Warrant Officer Marney Mason (retired) tells the Outlook section: "I think anyone who believes torture is a useful means of extracting information has been watching too many Sly Stallone movies.

"A good interrogation is like a seduction. You sit down. You ask the person questions. You try to develop a very intense personal relationship with another human being so they'll part with information they'd rather not part with. You wheedle, cajole, trick, lie. The point is to collect usable, actionable information. Sure, if you start pulling a guy's fingernails out, he'll start talking -- it may not be the truth, but he's going to tell you exactly what you want to hear."

Charles Kaiser writes in the Los Angeles Times about why 43 retired generals and admirals publicly stated their opposition to Bush's interrogation policies. For instance:

"Retired Brig. Gen. James P. Cullen was chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. 'I grew up in an Army where the rules were very clear and where serviceman and women had no question about what their obligations and responsibilities were under both the Geneva Convention and our domestic law,' he said. 'When you have a winking-and-nodding policy [as was the case at Abu Ghraib], that just brings about the consequences that we came to view at [the prison].'

"What further fuels the officers' outrage is that the policies they believe have undermined the military were mostly formulated by men, like Bush, who have not seen combat.

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