Monday, May 12, 2008

Torture - not a good idea

It's a recurring theme here, but it's one that can't be repeated enough. This interaction is taken from Ali Frick of Think Progress (, but it quotes a House Subcommittee hearing where Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind) is asking Phillipe Sands about torture. Specifically, snidely, and almost assuredly with a line written for him, Rep. Pence asks if "Oprah Winfrey" methods of interrogation could possibly be successful against the bad guys of the world.

Sands, who is an international lawyer and done quite a bit of research on the issue, knocks the question out of the park. The big takeaway is that the United Kingdom did what we're doing now in fighting the IRA back in the 1970's. Sands said there was broad consensus in the UK that those tactics extended the struggle by 15 to 20 years.

He explains very succinctly why torture doesn't work, why using the phrase "war on terror" ends up doing more harm than good, and ultimately exposing the testoterone-drenched fraud that is our current policy. It's good to get the white male demographic excited and voting, but not so good at other things, like keeping the country safe.


REP. MIKE PENCE (R-IN): Some have said relationship-building interrogation techniques are preferable and even more reliable in the long run than stress methods. They raise the question though, what about the hard cases? Like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was a mastermind of this a September 11 attacks in this country. How would you respond to the observation that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed probably is not susceptible to relationship-building methods? I can tell by your grin that you acknowledge the somewhat absurd thought that you could move people who have masterminded the death of 3,000 Americans by Oprah Winfrey methods. How would you have sought, how do you think the United States should seek to gain information from a mastermind like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed if he refuses to answer questions voluntarily, when additional American lives could be on the line with information that he is refusing to provide?

PHILLIPE SANDS: Thank you, sir. I very much appreciate that question. That question seems to go to the heart of many of the issues we’re discussing. I’m not sure how thrilled Oprah Winfrey would be to the characterization of her method in that way. I think I’ve got to say by way of outset, I come from a country which spent 15 years involved in facing terrorism on the streets. I grew up in a country where my mother wouldn’t let me go shopping on Oxford Street because bombs were going off at times on a weekly basis. That experience has had a very profound effect on how the United Kingdom addresses precisely the question you have addressed. The thinking in the British military and the thinking across the board politically — it’s is really not a left right issue, it is a broad consensus in the United Kingdom — is that coercion doesn’t work. That the experience of the United Kingdom, which moved in the early 1970’s to use techniques that were very similar to those that were used on Detainee 063, putting stress positions, humiliation, and so on and so forth, didn’t not work. The view is taken in the united Kingdom that it extended the conflict with the IRA probably by between 15 and 20 years. Because what it did was that it outraged the community that was associated with those who were subject to these particular techniques. It created a breeding ground, a recruiting ground which made it impossible for the British government to persuade those who were associated with the IRA but had not crossed the line into the use of violence into thinking in another way. And so, in answering your question, I am profoundly influenced by that experience. One of the great regrets that I have is that the administration never seemed to turn for advice to its closest allies, and to ask them, What was your experience when you faced a similar situation? The answer they would have gotten from whatever government it was, Conservative or Labour, is, Don’ t go down the route of using coercion and don’ t call it a “war on terror.” Why? Because by calling it a “war on terror” you transform criminals into warriors. And you create a context in which they are able to recruit in their struggle. If you notice, neither Prime Minister Blair nor Prime Minister Brown, nor any Conservative leader of the opposition, ever uses the phrase “war on terror,” because of the experience with the IRA.

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