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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Torture and the shame of the United States

Douglas A. Johnson, the executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture based in Minneapolis, writes in the Star Tribune (hat tip to Crooks and Liars):

The accumulation of evidence about our own government's descent into torture and ill treatment paints a stark picture: a global network of secret detention cells, torture and deaths of detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo, and worldwide networks to support a policy known as rendition, where the United States sends detainees to countries that torture.

Despite this bleak reality, I believe Americans share a common vision that the U.S. stands for human dignity, fairness and the rule of law. But the incongruence between our values and our government's actions is great, and clearly exemplified by the president's declaration that the U.S. does not torture while at the same time the vice president aggressively lobbies Congress to oppose legislation that would prevent torture.


Some in the administration argue that harsher tactics are needed. Indeed, popular culture promotes the idea that it is simply a matter of applying a little pressure to get information that will save lives. We know that to be false.

Torture is not a theoretical discussion at the Center for Victims of Torture. We know what torture is and we know its impact.

Torture does not work. We know from working with victims that torture is an ineffective way to gather information. Nearly all our clients, when subjected to torture, confessed to a crime they did not commit, gave up extraneous information, or supplied names of innocent friends or colleagues. This is a great source of shame for our clients, who tell us they would have said anything to get the pain to stop.

But don't take just our word for it. Experienced and well-trained interrogators within the military, the FBI and the police say that torture does not yield reliable information. Such extraneous information distracts, rather than supports, valid investigations. F. Andy Messing, a retired major in U.S. Special Forces and director of the National Defense Council, told Insight magazine, "Anybody with real combat experience understands that torture is counterproductive."

Not only is torture ineffective, but it is never used in isolated cases, as some would have us believe. ...

At the time the photos were taken at Abu Ghraib, the Red Cross estimated that at least 80 percent of those imprisoned should never have been arrested, but were there because it was easier to arrest persons than to let them go. They were all vulnerable to abuse not because of their guilt but because they were there.


There could not be a more critical time when American voices are needed. The Senate demonstrated that torture is not a partisan issue. All of us must contact our representatives and urge them to support the McCain amendment. In addition, we must tell our president we do not need to use torture or any form of cruelty to protect our security. We do need him to protect our values. If we do not, then we must accept responsibility for our government's shameful actions.