Forget Romney on Religion, Romney on Torture Is Worse

Michael’s recent post on Mitt Romney’s religious stance made of the later a ‘political enemy.' If his disdain for the separation of church and state wasn’t enough, Romney’s stance on torture should help make him utterly abhorrent to anyone.   … Read More

By / December 8, 2007

Michael’s recent post on Mitt Romney’s religious stance made of the later a ‘political enemy.' If his disdain for the separation of church and state wasn’t enough, Romney’s stance on torture should help make him utterly abhorrent to anyone.


During theCNN/YouTube debate, Romney stupidly attempted to spar with McCain on the subject of ‘water boarding.’ The question, as McCain eloquently puts it, is very much about what distinguishes ‘us’ from ‘them’:

My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America.

(By the way, this seems one of only two occurrences of the word ‘defining’ in that debate.)

A quick note on the stupidity of believing that life is “24 and Jack Bauer”, as it seems many politicians seem to do on this issue (for the credibility of Romney’s reference, see here). The Atlantic has some interesting pieces about this, pitting Mark Bowden (in favour of the use of torture; credentials: wrote a coolbook; “author, journalist, screenwriter, and teacher”) against Sherwood Moran (against torture; credentials: U.S. Marine Corps Major, responsible for the interrogation of Japanese prisoners during WWII) , through Stephen Budiansky. Moran’s memoir on interrogation of prisoners was posted online by the Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association, Budiansky writes

because "many others wanted to read it" and because the original document, in the Marine Corps archives, was in such poor shape that the photocopies in circulation were difficult to decipher. (A MCITTA member) denies that current events had anything to do with either the decision to post the document or the increased interest in it.

I liked Black Hawk Down, the book as well as the film, but somehow I would tend to trust professionals of interrogation on this subject more than a blockbuster author –Bowden may have talked to people on the frontline, but what you’re reading anyway is his interpretation–and dramatisation (so if you buy the book, don’t forget to go support the actual heroes).

Ideology is what has made the U.S. distinctive all along –an ideology of freedom and of progressive moral, the individual aetiology of which (e.g., religious or not) doesn’t matter. To be certain, everything isn’t rosy and good, but unlike what’s happening in many other places, Americans are generally trying to improve things. Despite what justified critics may have been saying, for example, the conditions in Guantanamo are incredibly better than what you would find in many other places. Take France, for instance, a vocal critic of American practices in all circumstances. This year again, the European Council notes the “inhuman and degrading” conditions in French prisons. Prisoners are routinely chained to their beds in the prisons' infirmaries, where guards are present during any and all medical procedures. “Isolated” detainees receive medical treatment under constraint, and are placed naked in their cells. One prisoner had been placed in such solitary detention conditions for nineteen years. Other than the usual account of the European report, little stirs in France against such blatant injustices.

To get back to the torture question and its supposed use for intelligence purposes, one of my personal heroes wrote this back to me after I sent him Budiansky’s piece:

Thanks for the article. The claims are quite true. I interrogated/interviewed (quite different acts in my view) hundreds, perhaps 1,000+ Japanese repatriates from China, Manchuria, & Siberia; NK POWs; as well as a number of Soviet and NK espionage agents. The soft touch was always my approach. I don't think I have ever heard of Moran, but one of the Marine interrogators landed on Guam and the chief of the army interrogation team landed on Saipan were (both deceased) personal friends and both subscribed to Moran's philosophy.

I am surprised by the article's claim that so many inexperienced people were employed as interrogators. Some of the fatigue and apprehension inducing techniques they used were, in my opinion, useful and acceptable, but application of pain or bodily injury are not only personally repugnant -those techniques can cause the subject to say just anything the interrogator seems to wish to hear. Totally counter productive. One wants to extract the truth, not fabrication.

To sum up, rejecting torture as a means of interrogation is not only defining for the U.S. as a country; it is also more efficient in terms of intelligence-gathering. McCain is scoring a lot of points with me on this one.

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