Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Thank you for showing the problem with America’s view of torture (“Torture is in the eye of the beholder,” April 21). Currently the Justice Department defines torture as “physical suffering and lasting mental anguish.” This definition invites convoluted definitions of “lasting anguish” and ultimately permits some torture. This comes in spite of the fact that U.S. officials prosecuted Japanese interrogators for water boarding post-World War II. Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell is quoted as stating that the legal test for torture should be “pretty simple”: “Is it excruciatingly painful to the point of forcing someone to say something because of the pain?”
The policy should be re-worked to state that if a practice causes enough mental or physical harm so as to induce lying for the purpose of stopping the procedure, the practice is torture. This would, however, require an element of cultural sensitivity. Stripping detainees naked, as explained in CIA documents, was employed to clash with cultural/religious teachings against expressed sexuality and evoke shame. Further, the practice of confining a detainee with caterpillars (which interrogators told the detainee were stinging insects) could arguably be considered torture as it was only done because the interrogators found he had a paralyzing fear of insects.
In addition, much of the intelligence received from “enhanced interrogation” has been bad intelligence (including information received from one Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi that formed the backbone of claims of an Al Qaeda-Iraq link which we now know to be false). On the subject of torture even CIA reports note, “It is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” Perhaps they ought to do away with torture as a practice on purely practical grounds.
Lastly, I would like to respond to your evocation of 9/11 as proof of torture being necessary. As enumerated by the 9/11 commission, the problem with US intelligence gathering has never been a lack of information, but rather a coordinated system for sharing and distributing that information in addition to a lack of adequate resources to pursue all leads.
Torture is real, objective and wrong. I applaud Obama for aiding in its exposure.