Sunday, December 18, 2005

on torture, from somebody who ought to know

Today the Washington Post's Outlook section carries a devastating essay on the ineffectiveness and degradation of torture by a former Soviet human rights activist, Vladimir Bukovsky. Read it to better understand how torture wrecks not only the victim but often the torturer and the institutions charged with carrying out torture as well, and to understand again how utterly ineffective it is. And Bukovsky doesn't buy any artificial distinction between torture and "cruel, inhumane, or degrading" treatment (CID), noting that the favored US tactic of sleep deprivation was precisely the torture tactic that Stalin's NKVD (the secret police that preceded the KGB) used to force confessions in the infamous show trials of the 1930s. After ten days of no sleep, people will sign anything without even understanding what they have signed.

Bukovsky begins with an old Soviet joke from the 1950s: One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."

A couple of other quotes from Bukovsky (but don't stop at my excerpts here, read the whole piece):
So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.
If America's leaders want to hunt terrorists while transforming dictatorships into democracies, they must recognize that torture, which includes CID, has historically been an instrument of oppression -- not an instrument of investigation or of intelligence gathering.
The description of how Soviet doctors and guards cried while shoving a huge tube for force feeding through Bukovsky's nose and gullet (not to mention Bukovsky's own pain) made me queasy. But the idea that this de facto Administration is condoning -- nay, encouraging -- torture in the name of the American people makes me sick at heart.

But it's not a blowjob, so let's not worry about impeachment.