Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Torture Debate.

The debate about torture has been raging in the last few weeks in the U.S media.

The most interesting (and real) discussion was between Jon Stewart and Cliff May (president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies) on The Daily Show last Tuesday. The conversation ran longer than the show and an unedited version is available online. It was an opportunity for some great exchanges (see videos below).

One thing to notice is that those who more or less support the use torture - ‘in some cases’ at least -tend to use semantics to divert attention from the moral issue - 'where do you draw the line between torture and duress or coercion' (used for instance by the police in their interrogations) they say?


One of Cliff May’s answers was that water boarding as used by the CIA operatives does not qualify as torture because ... a doctor was present. What kind of argument is that? What about, say, Mengele? He was a physician too, wasn't he? Since when have scientists been a guarantee of moral behavior?

No matter how you cut it, few people of good faith will deny that water boarding IS torture. In this respect, the “torture memos” are fascinating - they are all about semantics and the manipulation of words and concepts. According to the memos, “torture” is constituted by the level of pain that “would ordinarily be associated with a sufficiently serious physical condition or injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions” (see here). No one quite knows where that definition comes from….

Here’s a a more objective international definition of torture (as agreed by the United Nations) :

the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. (UN)

Thanks in part to Mr Cheney, the topic of torture has mostly evolved around the more “pragmatic” question of efficiency. In fact, that’s where Cliff May tried to go too: wouldn’t you torture to save a thousand lives? The problem is that the assumption that you CAN save a thousand lives by torturing a suspect – a sort of Jack Bauer ticking-bomb situation – is precisely….fiction. Cheney or even Tenet who claim torture works have little - if any - credibility when it comes to truthfulness or even competence:

Vice President Cheney and the administration have mistaken information gathered via torture for valuable intelligence at least once before. In 2002, the CIA turned a detainee named Ibn Shaykh Al Libi over to Egyptian security forces for questioning. Al Libi provided his interrogators with details of a connection between Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons manufacturing capacity and Al Qaeda. (Huffington Post)

If nothing else, history shows that torture does not work, and the French would know something about that. Even, Churchill thought it was not a good idea.


Byt then there is a the legality question. If torture works, then why not make it legal and thus change the law?

The moral argument is definitely the better argument against the use of torture in any discussion you may have. It is one used successfully by Jon Stewart.
Defining where we push the boundaries of torture has nothing to do with the person that we have with custody, it has to do with who we are”.
If a country has values, it is when those values are tried by difficult times that you know the real greatness of a country.
Praise Jon Stewart. He has also underlined the contradiction (that has always been obvious to me and that I’ve died to hear someone say) that if this is a “war on terror”, the suspected terrorists should be treated as enemy combatant.

The most important point is that what is at stake here is no less than the soul of a nation.
As Jon Stewart put it :
The country overstepped its boundaries after 9/11 only to come back later and say that was a mistake. Countries that can do that proved themselves to be great countries.
And indeed it is what made America great after the failure of Vietnam and what can make it great again after Abu Ghraib and Iraq.
Contrary to Stewart, however, I tend to believe that those who concocted this madness should be prosecuted. It may divide the country in the short run but it may be unavoidable in the long run, especially if you consider the legal obligation of any country in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Here are the videos of the discussions between Jon Stewart and Cliff May :























The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
thedailyshow.com












Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days



























The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 2
thedailyshow.com












Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days



























The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 3
thedailyshow.com












Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

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