Sunday, May 08, 2011

Torture Is for Liars

cross-posted from

A week ago, with barely a pause for breath, advocates of torture began claiming that torturing prisoners had been the key to finding Osama bin Laden. Indeed, some complained that the Obama Administration had been insufficiently deferential to the torturers from the last regime.

They made this assertion with no real evidence and no solid facts. This should surprise no one. If they were interested in facts or evidence, they would not advocate torture.

Here's the thing to remember:

Torture is not about discovering the truth.

Torture is about imposing the torturer's version of reality on others.

Torture is a technique for making people say what you want them to say. As a technique for getting people to reveal their secrets, it's wildly unreliable. As a technique for dictating heavily fictionalized confessions, it's as reliable as they come.

The specific techniques used during the Bush Administration were taken from the military's SERE program, which teaches military personnel like fighter pilots or Navy SEALs how to evade capture and resist torture by enemies. And the tortures people were being trained to resist were taken from regimes, such as the former Soviet Union, which excelled at extracting false confessions from victims. (Lt. John McCain did not confess to being a war criminal and "air pirate" because he was a war criminal; he confessed to being a war criminal because his captors were.) It's not that the torture methods used by the last Administration sometimes lead the victim to lie under duress. It's that they were designed to make the victim lie, in whichever way the torturer dictated. These are facts.

The torture regime of the last decade was not designed to make the United States safer or to learn anything about al-Qaeda. It was designed to impose the regime's own fantasies upon the real world, making prisoners "confess" what the torturers wanted to hear and using those confessions to support the Bush Administration's alternate version of reality. (For example, those reporting to George W. Bush came to want, very badly, to find a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq, especially a connection involving weapons of mass destruction. And because they needed to hear their prisoners confess such a connection, they kept torturing certain prisoners until those prisoners "confessed" the things that the torturers wanted to be true.)

Now that reality, once again, has proved uncongenial to the pro-torture crowd, they are resorting to their standard tactics: baseless assertions, polemical fantasies, and the promotion of alternate realities through assiduous lies. These lies are not simply a defense of the torture policy. They are the essence of the torture policy.

The torture crowd, despite their swagger, are the very opposite of tough. Toughness requires one to cope with the world as it is. Because they cannot cope with this world, the partisans of torture deny this reality and assert another that they find easier to deal with. That's why they're torturers: they can't handle the truth.

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