Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts on Torture

Over the past year, I've written about torture at a few of my other blogs (and those reading this post probably know what I'm referring to), but mostly I've narrowed in on the issue of efficacy, and not some of the other issues in the discussion.

For those of you who haven't benefited from my prior postings, allow me to sum up the efficacy argument thusly - torture is highly effective in getting someone to talk, but what is said is likely to be false because the motivation is to stop the torture, not to tell the truth. So, in the ticking time bomb scenario, an Al Qaeda operative is probably more likely to lie and give false information to his interrogators, so that he can a) stop the torture; and, b) still manage to complete the mission. And if torture doesn't work in the ticking timebomb scenario, it sure as hell doesn't work in any other scenario.

Of course, there is more to the torture debate then efficacy, and that's what I'm blogging about today. First, of all, there is a moral question - should the U.S. torture suspects? As someone who believes that America can be a shining city on the hill, and that America should aspire to such heights, I absolutely think that America should not torture. As even a nominal Christian, the idea of torturing someone when I am supposed to turn the other cheek is abhorrent.

But imposing my moral qualms is hardly democratic, so let me try to appeal to your reason. Torture, even if effective, hurts us in the War on Terror. One of the things I've heard over and over since 9-11 is that Al Qaeda is different from any enemy we've faced before. While that's somewhat true, Al Qaeda operatives are more willing to die for their cause, the truth is we've faced enemies like Al Qaeda before. The difference is that where Al Qaeda kills for the sake of killing, these other enemies killed for the sake of profit.

I am referring to the Mafia, the KKK and Jesse James. While they weren't necessarily enemies of the State or terrorists, both the Mob and the James Gang depended on local support to protect them. Missouri, post-Civil War was a wasteland, and as was the rest of the South. The James Gang was able to use this deep-seated anger towards the North to their advantage and hide from the authorities. The Klan was able (and still able in some circumstances) to do the same. The Mob, similarly, was protected by the Italian populace in part out of frustration with life in a new country.

In all three examples, the power and/or influence of these groups waned as their supporting populations declined. The James Gang was beaten by a town in Minnesota; prosecutions against the Klan increased as people became more accepting of African-Americans, and the Mafia has seen similar declines as the Italian American population has moved to the suburbs. Now, that's not to say that there are no Mafioso or Klansmen anymore, every population has its nutjobs, but without the support of the community, these guys are quickly rooted out.

Al Qaeda works in the same way. It depends on the populace of Islamic countries to allow it to hide in plain sight. In this, Iraq is a good example. Prior to Iraq War, Al Qaeda had little to no presence in Iraq (except for a base in the Kurdish area), because its target audience - Sunnis - were, for the most part, big supporters of the Hussein regime. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Sunnis lost power, and then turned to Al Qaeda for support in their fight against the Shi'a, and the U.S., and Al Qaeda in Iraq had some pull. From the local population, they got material support, recruits and a place to hide - all resources used to kill American soldiers. But when the Sunni leadership in Iraq cut a deal with the U.S., all of Al Qaeda's Iraqi support dried up, and they became completely ineffective.

Here's where torture comes into play: if we need the support of local populations to eliminate Al Qaeda (and we do), then doing anything to antagonize these populations is self-defeating. Torturing suspects to gather information is absolutely antagonizing, and only serves to create more Jihadists and provide Al Qaeda more support. In fact, Al Qaeda's strategy is to get the U.S. to torture and do other similarly self-defeating things to fire up the Islamic world.

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