One of my projects this last quarter was a look at Guantanamo. The recent Supreme Court ruling asserting that detainees do indeed have constitutional rights only makes sense. But another part of the story is a sheer number of innocent people swept up because the United States offered a bounty enabling a witch hunt for “suspected terrorists,” that allowed Afghans to settle old scores.
From this, the Pentagon insists, “These unlawful combatants have provided valuable information in the struggle to protect the U.S. public from an enemy bent on murder of innocent civilians.” Of course, this is absurd. As I’ve commented before, and is well known to social scientists and law enforcement investigators alike, subjects under torture say whatever they think will persuade their interrogators to stop the pain.
It is not uncommon for torture subjects to plead for death.
As an instrument of war, torture is most useful against communities. The stories told in “Witnessing Guantanamo,” an interview by Amy Goodman, that I attended (and posted my notes from here), illustrate how news of abuses spread through the prison; the former detainees largely did not experience the worst treatment themselves. And, of course, news of abuses, like those at Abu Ghraib, spread through communities outside the prisons, where they have two effects: 1) They increase ordinary people’s fear of authority, and 2) they increase resentment. The second of these effects reduces the likelihood of cooperation and increases the likelihood of resistance.
Torture makes us less safe, especially when the subjects are innocent.