Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Waterboarding... And I Don't Mean the Fun Kind!

Sorry for my delay in getting this posted, but I've been quite busy over the past couple of days, and I wanted to try to make this the best post possible, given the controversial nature of torture. This forum post was first brought to my attention by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who saw the link from PZ Meyers of Pharyngula. Alright, so, on to the meat of this post.

First things first, read that link. There it is again. No really, go read it, I'll wait. This post won't make any sense unless you do! ... Ok, now that you're done reading the post and maybe some of the responses, I can really get started. First things first, a small anatomical note: Just because one's head is below the "water line" does not mean that one cannot draw water up into their lungs! With a small hole for air in the saran wrap as he described, and only water going through the hole, your lungs create a suction. So if you continue breathing in as water is entering the hole, you have the potential to draw water into your lungs, which causes all kinds of nasty spasms, and death. The technical term is laryngospasm, and it can causes the throat to close up. What makes this dangerous is if you are already low on oxygen, panicking (which increases oxygen consumption because of a stressful increased breathing rate), and inhaling water, you could suffocate because of water going up your throat. In actual drowning, the reaction can be more complicated, but cardiac arrest is another big risk, as stated in the article. For more on the reaction of the body to drowning, Wikipedia has an entire article on the subject.

Now we know Waterboarding is highly effective at breaking people down to a primal emotional state, and it is most likely psychologically damaging if done repeatedly, over long periods of time. So now I have to ask, what kind of person do you have to be to intentionally damage another human being psychologically, with a risk of death, let alone torture them, no matter what they have done? What sort of mental state does the torturer have to be in to conduct an act like waterboarding, while the victim is struggling below them?

The torturer would most likely be emotionally unstable themselves (especially if they enjoy the act of torturing), suffer something akin to PTSD and immense guilt if they were forced into the act of torturing without having any way of dealing with it at the time, or, and this is what I postulate is the case with most torturers from the United States acting on terrorists, is to view the victim as sub-human in some way. Why would I say this is the most likely mental state of the torturer? These people would probably be subject to lots of political rhetoric and lies from neo-conservative leaders, and possibly enraged over the deaths of Americans caused "entirely" by terrorists.

The torturer's mental state would be to view anyone who is a "terrorist" as less than human, and below even the most basic human rights. This is no different from how a Nazi-supporter would view a Jewish person. The view of one human being superior to another is often the progenitor of genocides, whether they be in Africa, Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, or the United States (Here I refer to our treatment of the Native Americans), and slavery (From Rome to Britain to again, the United States). With media outlets often blurring the lines between terrorist and follower of Islam, much of the public is too close to desiring a similar genocide of Islamics. They are tempted to make a connection between Islamic and terroist, a fallacy of logic that is very dangerous not only for people in the Middle East, but us, as well. But I shall get into the dangers to ourselves later in this post. This view can be summed up in a blog post I found while doing some reasearch for this post, which can be found here. I quote,
A better use of freedom would be to defend its continued existence at home rather than arguing for the non-existent rights of an implacable, murderous foe whose core values demand the complete extermination of the freedoms that allow articles such as ours to be written free of fear.
Why should any human's rights be deemed non-existant? Certainly, if someone wants to kill you, then you have the right to self-defense, as do they, but because of their methodology and tactics, we must remove their basic human rights? How will this do anything but spawn more hatred, on both sides of the issue? If our soldiers were captured and tortured, we would be in a complete uproar, and demand vengeance. What makes terrorists any different? If, however, we captured these terrorists and obtained information in a different manner, they would most likely have less support from their local populace, which brings me to a different topic.

Torture is not an effective means of information gathering. Want a professional article on this subject? Here you go. I'll sum up the important parts, but first, I'll want to state that it's important that we, as a public, be skeptics. We should not take any statements, by the government, by our friends, our parents, our children, or others, without some kind of evidence backing it, especially when human lives are at stake. If someone in the government or on Fox News says "torture works!" then we should demand evidence. We cannot take someone at their word in such important issues, it is far too dangerous. On to summing up the article. Even the author of the article agrees,
I've heard it said that the Syrians and the Egyptians "really know how to get these things done." I've heard the Israelis mentioned, without proof. I've heard Algeria mentioned, too, but Darius Rejali, an academic who recently trolled through French archives, found no clear examples of how torture helped the French in Algeria -- and they lost that war anyway. "Liberals," argued an article in the liberal online magazine Slate a few months ago, "have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, the argument that torture is ineffective." But it's also true that "realists," whether liberal or conservative, have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, fictitious accounts of effective torture carried out by someone else.
She goes on to cite a direct source on the issue of torture.
Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 -- long before Abu Ghraib -- to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply "not a good way to get information." In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no "stress methods" at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the "batting average" might be lower: "perhaps six out of ten." And if you beat up the remaining four? "They'll just tell you anything to get you to stop."
Torture also endangers our troops, and I daresay, our civilians as well.
Worse, you'll have the other side effects of torture. It "endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity." It does "damage to our country's image" and undermines our credibility in Iraq. That, in the long run, outweighs any theoretical benefit. Herrington's confidential Pentagon report, which he won't discuss but which was leaked to The Post a month ago, goes farther. In that document, he warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees in Iraq, that their activities could be "making gratuitous enemies" and that prisoner abuse "is counterproductive to the Coalition's efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry." Far from rescuing Americans, in other words, the use of "special methods" might help explain why the war is going so badly.
Imagine, now, if we were a nation that did not have a large part of a large continent to ourselves, with only two countries bordering our own. Imagine we were a smaller nation sharing this continent with a few other, smaller nations, one of whom had decided to go to war with us. We would now be at war with a standing army. If we tortured their troops, or even their civilians, what would their reaction be? They would redouble their efforts, maybe even torture our own troops and civilians, and the whole situation would escalate, brining far more danger than necessary to ourselves. Now picture the real situation. We are such a large nation that it is difficult to screen all of our citizens for whether or not they would be a terrorist. We are torturing their comrades, and not gaining information about those within our nation (because torture doesn't work). What would be the outcome? We would be strengthening the resolve of those within our nation against us (reciprocity). And with our soldiers in a foreign land fighting these people, on more or less their own turf? Well, that's practically suicide, and the high death tolls of the War in Iraq would seem to back this.

I may be an atheist, but I'm most certainly a humanist. If there's one thing I believe in, it's Humanity, and the future we could have if we cooperate. Wars are inevitable, but they are a waste of human lives, and if we could cooperate, our future as a race is endless. If it weren't for conservative shows like 24, glamorizing torture and lying about its results, people wouldn't be so ready to accept that it is an "effective" method. We must, as a people, a nation, and a planet, learn to work together, or we are doomed.

A big thanks goes out to River from Psygeek for reviewing this post for me!

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