A debate has been raging in the blogworld recently about using torture on Al-Qaeda members. Here are some of the posts on the topic:
I would especially like to quote from Head Heeb who connects the War on Terror with the War on Drugs:
A running theme throughout these comments is that subcontracting torture is something new to the terror war —- a “canary in the coal mine” indicating a trend toward repressiveness in the United States. The truth is, however, that this particular canary has been dead for at least thirty years. Subcontracting of torture by American authorities is an old, old story, originating in another dirty war —- the “war on drugs.” There is a subgenre of Federal case law, beginning in the 1970s, involving the claims of alleged drug traffickers who were tortured by Latin American police, often with American law enforcement agents in the room.
[…]Similar treatment was meted out to Rafael Lira, who was tortured by Chilean police in 1974 after being arrested on the request of the United States; Raul Perez Degollado, shocked with cattle prods by Mexican authorities in the presence of DEA agents; and Juan Ramon Matta-Ballesteros, who was arrested in Honduras in the mid-1980s and “beaten and burned with a stun gun at the direction of the United States Marshals.” In the Degollado case, DEA agents actually admitted to being in the room while the Mexican police began to torture their captive, although they ducked out to preserve their sensibilities when things got too rough.
In Matta-Ballesteros, the Seventh Circuit went even farther and held that even active participation in torture by American law enforcement agents did not divest Federal courts of jurisdiction. The difference between Matta-Ballesteros and Toscanino, however, may be more style than substance. As the Matta-Ballesteros court noted, no Federal court, including that in the Toscanino case itself, has ever granted a motion to dismiss by a defendant who was tortured abroad.
I discuss these cases at such length because it has become clear to me that the closest comparison to the war on terror is not World War II, Vietnam or even the intifada, but the war on drugs. The enemies in both wars are very similar —- organized groups who are not state actors but who are well-armed and financially sophisticated. The line between political terror and drug trafficking is often very blurry; terror groups often make use of the drug trade to finance political violence, and many drug cartels have political connections or even act as de facto territorial warlords.
The methods by which the terror war is being fought are also reminiscent of the war on drugs. Complicity in torture and abduction are only two of the parallels. The drug war also involved subornation and corruption of foreign law enforcement authorities, support for repressive governments as a quid pro quo for counter-drug cooperation, low-level military entanglements in drug-producing countries and unprecedented expansion of search, seizure and surveillance powers within the United States. We’re already seeing all these things again in the terror war – the Patriot Act and this year’s possible sequel, the United States’ embrace of Musharraf, the open-ended troop mission in Afghanistan, the recent landings of American troops in Turkey with the cooperation of its military but against the will of its government.
Most importantly of all, the nature of the two conflicts is very similar – both are open-ended wars against largely unseen enemies in which the moment of victory can never be certain. This means that the war on terror will lend itself to the same mission creep as the drug war – the slow abandonment of political and social engagement in favor of an exclusive focus on enforcement, and the gradual conception of enforcement as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The fact that international terrorism is a direct political threat to the United States is only likely to accelerate the mission creep. For at least the duration of the current administration, the terror war will resemble the war on drugs fought with the intensity and single-mindedness of the Cold War – and, for the first time, our European allies are experiencing what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
He’s got a very interesting take and I hope, fervently hope that the prosecution of the war on terror is better and different than the war on drugs.
Regarding torture, I can only advise my potential torturers: If you do torture me, please, do not act on any of the things I tell you because they are NOT true; I will only be saying them to get out of the torture chamber as fast as I can.
Also to proponents of torture: That technology you have which tells you who is guilty and hence deserves torture, can you make it available to prosecutors and courts so that we don’t waste so much time and effort on investigations and trials and also save the innocent and punish the guilty.