Monday, February 25, 2008

Is Waterboarding Torture?

A week or so ago, one of my readers, the amazing Claudia (Fran) Davila, posted a comment, here, about Mitt Romney, religion, and violence (war). Fran is amazing and she brought up some very important issues. I'd like to continue addressing them, today. Check out my previous post, for the first part of this discussion.

Let's pick up where we left off with Fran's posted comments.

"And he enthusiastically supports torture of military combatants and presumed terrorists. Where in the bible does it say we should hurt and kill people in the name of religion? Not even the Koran says this. All the world's religions are based on peace, and what Romney and the jihadists have in common is that they are all perverting religion for a misguided goal."

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Fran was talking about water boarding when she mentioned torture. I could be wrong, but I've been thinking about blogging on the issue of water boarding anyway so, here goes.

I have very mixed feelings about this so-called "interrogation technique." From a certain standpoint, water boarding is not physical torture. It does not cause physical harm in the same way that electrocution, burning, beating, or cutting someone would. At the same time, there's a reason why the person being questioned is hooked up to an EKG so they can monitor his or her heart, and it has nothing to do with lie detection. The fear and stresses involved are immense and can have lasting physical and psychological effects.

The US Navy SEALS, and other elite US military units, use water boarding as part of their survival training to psychologically prepare them for the possibility of capture. The SEALS have quit doing it, though, because it has such a horrible effect on morale. The CIA continues to use it as part of their training.

From what I understand, even the most hardened CIA operative usually "folds" within 14 seconds of subjection to water boarding. And this is when they know that the person performing it is not going to let them die.

Why do people "start talking" so quickly? Water boarding simulates drowning. Most of us can hold our breath for longer than 14 seconds. From what I understand, from people who have undergone it as part of military training, is that water boarding is so terrifying that they can think of nothing else but making it stop. The fear of death and drowning is far more severe than the reality of their situation.

Is this torture? In my mind, it most certainly is psychological torture, with a potential physical threat due to stress. There's a problem with such things. The person is so afraid that they may tell you anything in order to get it to stop. That puts the value of the information into question.

The updated Army Manual of Interrogation prohibits water boarding, and many of the other things we saw at Abu Ghraib prison. It was updated because of what did happen at Abu Ghraib. The CIA, on the other hand, can still use water boarding as an interrogation tool. They received written permission from President Bush to do so in 2006. They've denied using it since 2003, however.

So, is water boarding torture? Yes. It's mock execution. I can't see any other definition for it, legal or otherwise. It's only been under our recent administration that it status as torture has ever been questioned.

It's also horridly effective. Even given the chance of someone giving false information, the CIA has claimed that a lot of very good intelligence in the War on Terror has been garnered through water boarding. The 2002 through 2003 interrogations of Al-Qaida suspects Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri are examples.

Let me give you some food for thought, though. This is a question that nags me when I ask it of myself. I'm not sure of my answer, and that doesn't make me very proud of myself. There are parts of my psyche that fall on both sides of the issue.

Here we go.

If you knew that there was an imminent terrorist plot that would result in the potential death of hundreds or even thousands of lives, and you also had a prime suspect in that plot in your custody, would you employ water boarding? What if other means of interrogation had yielded very little?

Remember. Time is of the essence. People's lives are on the line, and you have a sworn duty to defend them.

If you knew that your actions as an interrogator - putting one person through a few moments of sheer terror - could save thousands of people and their families from horrible pain and death, would you do it?

What would you do?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Talking with Fran

A week or so ago, one of my readers, Claudia (Fran) Davila, posted a comment here about Mitt Romney, religion, and violence (war). I have the highest amount of respect possible for Fran. I really do. She's awesome. If you have yet to go and read her blogs, especially those on sustainable living and her post-oil survival guide, you should.

Because of my respect for her, even if I don't agree with her on certain details, I think some of the things she talked about in her comments to me deserve more discussion.

Here's part of what she said.

"He points to impending jihad from the middle east as a great threat based on their religious views, which Romney says needs to be prevented with escalating war - though somehow for Romney to run a country and lead wars abroad based on his religious views is okay? Where's the difference?"

I don't think Romney would have tried to lead the country based on religious views. There were a few things that happened on his watch as governor of Massachusetts that are not in line with strict LDS tenants. At the same time, we cannot separate a person's faith and beliefs from their actions, and Fran is good to point that out. We also need to understand that a person's stated affiliation does not mean that he or she is a perfect example of the group they are affiliating with.

This is the very problem that Islam is facing. What happens to Islam when it comes to terrorist organizations using Islam to justify terrorist acts?

As I see it, there are many people who are perverting the teachings of Islam in the name of hate. They hate others who are not like themselves. They hate the conditions they are living in. They hate their own lives. They have been indoctrinated to this hate from birth, and continue to indoctrinate others. They have turned to violence as a means of justifying their feelings, and inflicting pain on others. Such people believe that only by murdering others and inflicting fear and pain can they make themselves feel better, and increase their own standing in the world. They use a perversion of religion to justify their hatred and violent actions. This is not true Islam.

I agree with Fran that escalating violence cannot solve the problem. Such action simply gives fuel to the terrorists. "See! The evil American Satan is bombing us! They are killing us! We are justified in killing them and the evil Jews!" they scream. All the while they ignore the fact that they started this fight when they targeted and killed innocent civilians (non-combatants) to further their true cause: chaos and destruction.

How do you deal with someone like that? How do you deal with a group that indoctrinates others into a culture of hate and violence? They want you to talk with them, to try and understand them, because then you've let your guard down. They don't want to be understood and helped. They want to kill you, and they will do it by any means they can. This is especially true with so-called "Islamic fundamentalists." (I hate that term. These people are extremists. They are not practicing the fundamental ideals of Islam.)

"And he enthusiastically supports torture of military combatants and presumed terrorists. Where in the bible does it say we should hurt and kill people in the name of religion? Not even the Koran says this. All the world's religions are based on peace, and what Romney and the jihadists have in common is that they are all perverting religion for a misguided goal."

We can both agree that the jihadists are perverting religion. I'm not sure Romney is but, as I said in my initial reply to Fran, I didn't actually hear the speech she was talking about.

I'm going to deal with the torture issue, and some of her other very good points, in later posts.