Torture? Sometimes it’s appropriate

“Torture doesn’t work!”

That was the mantra chanted over and over again during last year’s presidential election by those supporting Barack Obama, and vilifying George W. Bush for allegedly approving treatment of captured terrorists that would put Attila the Hun to shame.

“Torture doesn’t work!” Sure, folks. That’s why it’s been used consistently for 3,000 years or more by governments, armies, and police the world over — because it doesn’t work. Hey, makes sense to me!

Of course torture “works” — when used appropriately, with the correct ends in mind. But like any other operation, it’s subject to abuse. A government must avoid giving carte blanche to officials to use what is more broadly defined as “torture” simply to gratify some sadist’s fiendish impulses, for instance.

What types of “torture,” so called, are appropriate in a democracy? Well, those causing discomfort, certainly, or even some degree of (temporary) pain. Waterboarding comes to my mind immediately, since it’s been discussed so much recently. Sleep deprivation is another. But other “traditional” types of torture, such as sodomy with inanimate objects, or pulling out fingernails, have no place in a free society.

What can “advanced interrogation techniques” be used to obtain, legitimately? The prime goal would be vital information about who committed an atrocity, or about an atrocity that may have already been planned and may be imminent. Such information can be material in sending a murdering terrorist to prison, or, more importantly, in halting a terrorist attack before it can occur. Remember, these people hate us and want to kill as many of us as possible. In my mind, that kind of puts them beyond the pale as far as extending any sympathy to them goes. As Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, “War is hell.” No Marquis of Queensbury rules.

Those opposing “torture” may protest that those interrogated in that way will simply give inaccurate information to their interrogators so the torture will stop. There’s an answer to that. The answer is: “We’re going to check out what you told us. Meanwhile, you’re still in custody. If we find out you’ve deliberately misled us, we’ll be back — and you’ll be sorry.”

Now, there are other reasons torture has been used over the centuries. One is to force a person who professes one religion to repudiate it and claim to believe in a different one — presumably that of the torturer. The morally repugnant angle of this aside, such a “conversion” would always be suspect. “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still,” as a wise man once said. I just wish I could remember who he was.

Another unacceptable use ot torture is that of forcing a confession from a suspect or other prisoner. Again, it’s morally unacceptable, for one; and the confession would always be suspect, for the reasons I gave above.

Torture — or “advanced interrogation techniques” — thus is like a lot of things in this world. It isn’t all bad, or all good. So the next time you hear a liberal saying, “Torture doesn’t work,” you can answer, “It does if it’s done properly.”


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