What is Torture?
There's a very interesting but somewhat one-sided discussion about the subject over at Sid's place, so I thought I'd bring it over here for my readers to have a go at the topic.
Here are my thoughts:
Torture is basically putting someone in an uncomfortable situation to try to influence their behavior. The difficulty is drawing the line to decide what is allowed treatment of prisoners and what is not.
Is harsh questioning torture? Is a cold room? How cold? What about making someone stand up for a long time in one place? Or listen to music they don't like? Or depriving them of sleep? Heck, so far that sounds like my third year surgery rotation.
Our special forces go through much more hostile training than that, although I understand the difference that since it is on a voluntary basis and that they can quit at any time, it's not really the same thing at all. But the differences are mostly psychological. Torture, like pain, is based on individual perception. To some, sitting through an entire baseball game might be torture; to others, that's a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Is denying prisoners such comfort items as cigarettes considered torture? The Geneva Convention specifically states that POWs should have access to cigarettes and a commissary, among other benefits (articles 26-28). Of course there is some controversy about whether terrorist groups qualify under that document.
How about verbally misleading a prisoner? You could show him a finger from a corpse and tell him it is from one of his family members; every day he doesn't cooperate, you will bring him another one. Too gruesome and cruel? But yet since nobody is physically harmed with that technique, is it really "torture?"
What about verbal threats? Threatening them with a dog? With a gun? With a mock execution? That particular mock execution produced very important information which may have saved several of our soldiers' lives, if I recall correctly.
What about loud noises, either sudden and unexpected or constant and blaring? What about visual or auditory propaganda? Bright lights? Solitary confinement?
Are these things really torture? We aren't talking about using power drills or car batteries here. Or is any "mistreatment" of prisoners so abhorrent that we should always provide them with comfy feather beds, morning coffee, afternoon tea, Marlboros, and internet access? Is any attempt to extract information from prisoners always wrong?
Let's hear it.
(picture via The Smoking Gun)