Thursday, 3 July 2008

Strategic arguments against torture

The immorality of torture should be obvious, but as war can be seen as necessarily entailing moral compromises, it’s important to also understand strategic arguments against torture.

First among these is that torture leads to false confessions. As subsequent actions based on false information are likely to be strategically disadvantageous, this is more than just unfortunate. That false confessions will result has been shown many times over, but today’s paper has an incredible story on how easily the lesson can be forgotten.
  From the International Herald Tribune, US used Chinese torture techniques, by Scott Shane - a chart showing ‘coercive management techniques’ used by military trainers in Guantánamo Bay in 2002 had been copied from a 1957 US Air Force study of Chinese techniques used against American prisoners during the Korean War. The punchline is that the original study was titled ‘Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From the Air Force Prisoners of War.’ 
  According to the report, some of these techniques were used against a small number of prisoners at Guantánamo before the US Congress banned such use of coercion by the military in 2005.

A second major strategic argument against the use of torture is that in a counter-insurgency war, the prize is the active support of the population. The population need to see victory as being in their interest. The advantage that democracies have over authoritarian governments and terrorist groups is that they are supported by their populations. This is their strength. To prevail elsewhere democratic and legal strengths of the state need to be projected along with military strengths. To fight for democracy and the rule of law we must fight with democracy and the rule of law.

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