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Friday, May 28, 2004

Battle Torture - Iron Blogger Green - Second Rebuttal

If, as the Challenger states, the Barney song “can cause mental suffering through repetition of horribly irritating music for hours on end”, then it fits not only my definition of the word ‘torture’, but his own (“excruciating…mental pain”, “severe…anguish”) as well...and probably just about any other, but that's just an observation.

The Utilitarian-Absolutist issue is one that I hope to put to rest with the following statements, as I consider the whole issue to be somewhat diversionary: The word ‘absolutist’ implies a closed mind, resolutely made up, and incapable or unwilling to receive or even consider new ideas. It is not an accurate description of me. I prefer to consider the alternatives, rather than blindly adhering to a preconceived idea. But before I discard my beliefs, I do make a thorough investigation of the alternatives, first.

The Challenger brings up two of my previous statements: First, that few would weep for the miseries of Hussein; Second, that it would be difficult to argue against the idea that savaging or ending a few guilty lives to save many innocents would be justifiable.

The latter statement he mischaracterizes. I did not claim to believe it, I said it would be 'difficult to argue'. He omitted my statement of what I do believe, which is that that principle rarely bears out in practice. In a hypothetical situation where torturing a few guilty would save and improve the lives of many innocents, it would be difficult to argue against that; but my point from the beginning has been that that is rarely, if indeed ever, the case.

Responding to the former statement, he asks 'Could it be that many believe his punishment was just'? This question is intended to justify the torture of Hussein, but instead it proves my argument for me. I have demonstrated in previous posts that in the example situations of Nazi Germany, the French Revolution and the Witch Persecutions, those who were committing atrocities all believed that their cause was just. In putting forward that the torture of Hussein is justified because of his past actions, the Challenger reinforces my point; he also damages his own, because now we have moved from interrogation for the purpose of saving lives, to punishment. This is another argument I have made, that whatever supposedly 'good' purpose is originally assigned to the use of torture, history shows that that purpose is almost always lost, and usually quite rapidly.

But what of the claim that the interrogations of Hussein have provided (presumably) useful information? I extracted from the Challenger's sources the following pieces of information that have been won specifically from the capture of Hussein:

"He denies he hid weapons of mass destruction before the March 20 coalition invasion."

"[information that] allowed interrogators to confirm some suspicions and reject other information...have allowed the military to hunt for some people involved in attacks on U.S. troops."

"...led to the arrest of several prominent regime figures in Baghdad...been able to capture a couple of key individuals here in Baghdad. We've completely confirmed one of the cells..."

"...led to the arrest of several prominent regime figures in Baghdad...been able to capture a couple of key individuals here in Baghdad. We've completely confirmed one of the cells..."

"[information that] allowed interrogators to confirm some suspicions and reject other information...have allowed the military to hunt for some people involved in attacks on U.S. troops."

No, that isn't a typo on my part. Two of the articles are entirely the same, verbatim, from beginning to end; two of the other articles are entirely the same, verbatim, from beginning to end (deja vu). Two of the three actual articles were released in December of 2003, the third on February 1 of this year.

All five (three?) articles state clearly that the information mentioned was gained from interrogation of Hussein and from documents found in his possession.

The one twinless article clarifies that statement: "The soldiers also found $750,000 in cash and Saddam's briefcase containing the names of anti-U.S. insurgents."

So, if the insurgents were identified from the documents, then the interrogation of Hussein produced the following information: "He denies he hid weapons of mass destruction before the March 20 coalition invasion."

That's pretty much what he was saying before the invasion. I'm not seeing the benefits of the interrogations.

With all due respect to the Challenger's friend, the Anfal attack, while horrific, contributes little to his argument. The Challenger asks whether the use of torture on a hypothetical number of people would have been justified if it would have prevented that attack. It's a valid question, but purely hypothetical.

The Jordanian plot is a much better argument from the Challenger. But again we have repetitive links, with no clear connection between torture and the prevention of the disaster. "The plot was within days of being carried out, Jordanian officials said, when security forces broke it up April 20. In a nighttime raid in Amman, Jordanian security forces moved in on the terrorist cell." No mention is made of what led the security forces to that cell.

"The report did not explain how the suspects were able to amass unchecked 20 tonnes of chemicals, set up laboratories to make explosives, buy trucks for suicide bombings and warehouses to store them in", states one article. This is where another law enforcement technique, investigation, can be useful.

Another one warns "Airing suspects' confessions before their trial is unusual in Jordan. In 1998, six men accused of affiliation with a militant group confessed on television to planting a bomb that exploded outside an Amman hotel. Five years later, a court found them innocent. The unusual move may be an attempt to answer critics who claim the government has exaggerated the terror danger to justify tightening security."

In rebutting my perceived uncertain leap in his logic of assuming that the positive results accomplished by, specifically, torture at the hands of Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, the Challenger at last brings this debate down to where it began; with the mathematics of life and death: The needs of the few vs. the needs of the many.

Even before we consider the equation, however, his proposed facts bear close examination. The estimate of prisoners held at Guantanamo comes from an article dated June 4, 2003; the Iraqi estimate, while more recent (May 6, 2004), comes from the Washington Times, not widely regarded as an impartial source; and the Afghan figures date back to February 27, 2002. These estimates, which are either outdated or of dubious origin, are added up and then compared against figures which represent the entire populations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To accept this equation, then, we also have to accept that the entire populations of these two nations “have been saved” and “given rights and freedoms that they never had.”

For sake of convenience, I’ll accept the Challenger’s numbers regarding prisoners; with the heavy shroud of secrecy cast by the Bush administration, nobody knows how many there really are. Instead, I’d like to take a closer look at his assertion that the entire populations of Iraq and Afghanistan have won such sweeping benefits from the torture of those thousands.

First, the situation in Iraq:


  • Hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands injured as a result of bombing by US-led Coalition forces during a war on Iraq launched in March.

  • Thousands of people were arrested and detained without charge or trial during the year.

  • Many civilians were killed as a result of excessive use of force by Coalition forces.

  • Scores of women were abducted, raped and killed as law and order broke down after the war.

  • Torture and ill-treatment by Coalition forces were widespread.

  • Armed groups were responsible for gross human rights abuses: scores of civilians, including foreigners, were killed in attacks.

  • Coalition forces failed to live up fully to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law as occupying powers, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care and relief assistance. Widespread looting of public and private buildings and a sharp rise in criminal activities were seen across the country in the aftermath of the war. Many people faced grave dangers to their health owing to power cuts, shortages of clean water and lack of medical services.

  • Insecurity quickly became the major concern for the Iraqi population, a problem heightened by the lack of appropriate policing and the wide availability of arms. An increase in serious abuses against women, including rape and murder, was reported, and scores of former Ba'ath Party and security force members were targeted in revenge attacks, particularly in the Shi'a dominated districts of Baghdad and in southern Iraq.

  • Little action was taken to address past human rights violations, including mass "disappearances", or to investigate and bring to justice those found responsible for committing crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, or to provide compensation and restitution to victims.

  • Hundreds of civilians were killed during the war by US and UK forces. Some were victims of cluster bombs, others were killed in disputed circumstances. Unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs posed a threat to civilians, particularly children.

  • Scores of civilians were killed apparently as a result of excessive use of force by US troops or were shot dead in disputed circumstances.

  • Torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition forces was frequently reported. Detainees suffered extreme heat while housed in tents and were supplied with insufficient water, inadequate washing facilities, open trenches for toilets, no change of clothes, and no books, newspapers, radios or writing materials. Detainees were routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and the first 24 hours of detention. Plastic handcuffs used by US troops caused detainees unnecessary pain. Former detainees stated they were forced to lie face down on the ground, were held handcuffed, hooded or blindfolded, and were not given water or food or allowed to go to the toilet. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment by US and UK troops during interrogation were received. Methods reported included prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. There were frequent reports of abuses by US forces during house searches, including allegations of looting and wanton destruction of property. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment was adequately investigated.

  • In the aftermath of the war, women and girls increasingly faced violent attacks, including abduction, rape and murder, as law and order broke down. Many women became too afraid to leave their homes, and girls were kept away from school. Women who were victims of violence in the street or home had virtually no hope of obtaining justice.

  • American troops are holding innocent Iraqis as hostages.
  • Roughly 11,000 civilians are confirmed dead since the invasion began. Some estimates go much higher.
  • "The questioning of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners last fall in the newly established interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison yielded very little valuable intelligence, according to civilian and military officials."

And, in Afghanistan:


  • A deteriorating security situation undermined human rights. Serious human rights abuses and armed conflict continued in many areas.
  • The criminal justice system remained ineffective and was a source of violations rather than a mechanism for providing justice.
  • Women and girls in particular faced discrimination in the justice system.
  • Police lacked pay, training and control structures. Prison conditions were poor. Detainees were held for excessive periods before appearing before a judge.
  • Women and girls faced a high level of violence. Rape and sexual violence by armed groups was reportedly common.
  • Violence in the family, and forced and underage marriage, were widespread.
  • Past human rights abuses were not addressed and the international community did not provide the necessary support to ensure progress in this area.
  • The US-led coalition was responsible for arbitrary detentions as the "war on terror" continued.
  • Refugees continued to return from neighbouring states but in much reduced numbers, owing largely to concerns about the security situation, employment opportunities and housing. There were serious concerns about the voluntariness of returns from Iran and Pakistan.


If the justifications for torture were to 'save people' from their former governments, and bring them 'rights and freedoms' which they have never had, it seems to me we've fallen far short of our goals.

To sum up, George W. Bush' harsh tactics date back to his term as Texas Governor. His own White House lawyer warned him two years ago that the tactics being used today leave him and the entire administration open to prosecutions for war crimes. Even veterans of previous wars, including Korea and Vietnam, are calling for a "full and public Congressional investigation...all the way up the chain of command."

If there are still any doubts about how much we've improved the lives of the Iraqi people, I strongly suggest this Marine's account of his actions in Iraq.

Peace,
R. G. Pratt
Iron Blogger Green
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