The thing about torture is simple: It. Does. Not. Work.
If you want to lord it over a POW, if you're getting off on the power you have over people's lives, if you want someone to tell you something you want to hear, then, yes, torture works.
If you want the truth? Not so much.
I see the debate in this country over waterboarding and "enhanced interrogation techniques" (An Orwellian turn of phrase if I ever heard one. Did no one explain that 1984 was supposed to be a cautionary tale and not a how-to manual?) and I just want to cry.
We are debating whether torture is "okay." Unbelievable. If we as a nation are ever held to account for what we've done over the past 6 years, one thing we will not be able to say is, "I didn't know what was going on."
We did know. We just didn't give a good Goddamn.
So, yeah, there are no "good Germans" here.
What boggles my mind is how many people must've slept through high school history because, y'know what? Torture as an interrogation method was actually discussed. Hello? Anyone remember The Inquisition? The European-wide witch-hunts? The Salem Witch Trials? Viet Nam? Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge?
Y'all remember the discussion of torture in your history class, right?
Or was it just my high school?
I'm beginning to think that it was just my high school.
As a Freshman (and I want to repeat: in high school): I remember all of us looking at pictures of an Iron Maiden during a World History class and being asked: "What would you confess to avoid that?"
And all of us little Freshman agreed: Anything. Everything. Even if it meant dying, because dying quickly is a whole lot better than dying slowly in an Iron Maiden.
I mean, we got it at the tender age of 14 that torture does not work.
Know who else agrees with me?
These World War II interrogators from Fort Hunt:
When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.
Back then, they and their commanders wrestled with the morality of bugging prisoners' cells with listening devices. They felt bad about censoring letters. They took prisoners out for steak dinners to soften them up. They played games with them.
"We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture," said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess.
Blunt criticism of modern enemy interrogations was a common refrain at the ceremonies held beside the Potomac River near Alexandria. Across the river, President Bush defended his administration's methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects during an Oval Office appearance.
Several of the veterans, all men in their 80s and 90s, denounced the controversial techniques. And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army's Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
"I feel like the military is using us to say, 'We did spooky stuff then, so it's okay to do it now,' " said Arno Mayer, 81, a professor of European history at Princeton University.
When Peter Weiss, 82, went up to receive his award, he commandeered the microphone and gave his piece.
"I am deeply honored to be here, but I want to make it clear that my presence here is not in support of the current war," said Weiss, chairman of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and a human rights and trademark lawyer in New York City.
The veterans of P.O. Box 1142, a top-secret installation in Fairfax County that went only by its postal code name, were brought back to Fort Hunt by park rangers who are piecing together a portrait of what happened there during the war.
Nearly 4,000 prisoners of war, most of them German scientists and submariners, were brought in for questioning for days, even weeks, before their presence was reported to the Red Cross, a process that did not comply with the Geneva Conventions. Many of the interrogators were refugees from the Third Reich.
"We did it with a certain amount of respect and justice," said John Gunther Dean, 81, who became a career Foreign Service officer and ambassador to Denmark.
The interrogators had standards that remain a source of pride and honor.
"During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone," said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. "We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I'm proud to say I never compromised my humanity."
Do you know who else will tell you torture doesn't work?
Malcom Nancy, who is, to quote directly from his bio, "a 20-year veteran of the US intelligence community's Combating Terrorism program and a six year veteran of the Global War on Terrorism he has extensive field and combat experience as an field intelligence collections operator, an Arabic speaking interrogator and a master Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) instructor."
You need to read his whole entry on torture, because he lays out in very specific ways why the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" is not only wrong, but harmful to American interests.
Here's a taste of what you'll get:
Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed’s case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.
According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.
A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?
What next if the waterboarding on a critical the captive doesn’t work and you have a timetable to stop the “ticking bomb” scenario? Electric shock to the genitals? Taking a pregnant woman and electrocuting the fetus inside her? Executing a captive’s children in front of him? Dropping live people from an airplane over the ocean? It has all been done by governments seeking information. All claimed the same need to stop the ticking bomb. It is not a far leap from torture to murder, especially if the subject is defiant. Are we willing to trade our nation’s soul for tactical intelligence?
Keep in mind: The above was not written by some fuzzy-headed liberal who's never left an ivory tower, but a hard-core veteran of both the military and U.S. intelligence.
ETA: If the word of people who worked in intelligence-gathering and interrogations isn't enough for you, you can always go check out FRONTLINE: The Torture Question. You can not only watch the whole FRONTLINE episode for free, you'll be able to read additional interviews, including interviews with interrogation experts who'll tell you that torture doesn't work, as well as interviews with U.S. soldiers did torture where they'll tell you that torture isn't about gathering information at all.