Monday, April 14, 2014

Assad Shows What Torture Really Is

After the overwrought allegations here that we tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and a handful of al Qaeda, Syria's Assad reminds us of what actual torture is.

This is torture:

The UN's human rights chief on Monday condemned the "routine" use of torture in Syrian detention facilities, as a new report said victims were raped, beaten and had their teeth and toenails pulled out.

Navi Pillay said torture was routinely used in government detention facilities as well as by some armed groups in Syria, where more than 150,000 people have been killed in a bloody civil war.

"In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime," said the UN rights commissioner.

"When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity."

The UN report, based on accounts by 38 survivors, detailed the systematic torture of men, women and children in the war-ravaged country.

Jihadis fighting Assad also torture, according to the report.

Let me contrast this torture with what we were alleged to have done in Abu Ghraib. While revolting, the naked pyramid photos of detainees were far closer to fraternity hazing than any type of physical abuse, let alone torture. The incidents were a breakdown of military discipline and wrong. But they were not torture despite the routine description of what happened as torture.

As for waterboarding, we rarely did it and it is simply not in the same league as beatings that can cripple or kill, raping, and pulling teeth and toenails out.

Waterboarding is not torture, in my opinion. It is terrifying but will not cripple or disfigure a person.

And at risk of reopening an old, poorly conducted debate, torture is not worthless. If you know from other information that a subject has information, torture will most assuredly get the subject to talk.

What people mean when they say that torture doesn't work is that routine torture of people swept up by security forces in the hopes of getting good information doesn't work. Yes, in that circumstance, torture does not work because those who know will talk, but so too will the far more numerous people who know nothing. They will talk nonsense to get the torture to talk, which will muddy the waters and make even the accurate talk less valuable.

Look, we are free to ban any type of pressure that we aren't comfortable with, and in consideration of what we hope to get. I wouldn't torture enemies for information.

We are even free to ban waterboarding as a method. I'm not in fact terribly comfortable with that method. Yet I can't blame our people in the aftermath of 9/11 for using such a method on a small number of people believed to have information in order to stop another 9/11.

But banning a particular method isn't to say that the banned method is torture. And it always bothered me that opponents of the method argued against it on the grounds that it is torture.

Seeing actual torture in action should be clarifying, shouldn't it? But a lot of what is happening in Syria contrasted to Iraq should be clarifying.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link. I scored a hat trick with Mark's daily links. That's a first, as far as I can tell.