Friday, September 22, 2006

On Torture

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."

...

This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.


By Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities. Please read the whole thing.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

For those of you who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, please think about the torture being done in our names as you say vidui.

10 comments:

asher said...

Vidu is said on Yom Kuppur.

A happy new year to you too.

Jewish Atheist said...

It's said on RH too.

asher said...

I just sat through two shacharis services at an orthodox shul and in neither case did they say vidui.

Torture would certainly be a problem if you wanted people to confess to being secret Jews or witches. However subjecting terrorists to very loud bad rock music in order find out what they know might turn the corner in a sticky situation. You always want to make a judgemental call like that?

CyberKitten said...

If only they played TOTO *really* loud to known terrorists.....

I mean... what's the fuss over a few damaged ear drums.....

I'm sure it *never* gets any worse than that....

Anyway... as they're terrorists (because we've been told by the authorities that they are terrorists) we can do anything we like to them... right?

Jewish Atheist said...

asher:

Isn't the "ashamnu" prayer known as vidui?

However subjecting terrorists to very loud bad rock music in order find out what they know might turn the corner in a sticky situation.

We're talking about things like waterboarding, long-term sleep deprivation, forced standing, etc. Plus who knows what else. It's not like the new law spells it out at all.

Yeah, and as CK points out, who says they're terrorists?

JDHURF said...

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."

That is one of the better illustrations of the ineffectiveness of torture I have seen, personally, I always use the thousands of individuals who admitted to being witches while being tortured during one of the various witch-hunts.
Torture is not only unethical, but, also impractical. It’s simply deleterious and ignorant to sail from the very shores of civilization which you are attempting to defend in the first place. There are reasons why torture, slavery, rape, etc. are illegal and the argument for torture would be laughable were it not for the fact that it is not only being put forth seriously, but, that the US has been having difficulty lately behaving as a nation of the twenty first century rather than of the thirteenth.

Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

Isn't the "ashamnu" prayer known as vidui?

Yes it is.

And it's not said on Rosh Hashana.

Jewish Atheist said...

Huh. I guess it's been a while. :-) I thought it was said the whole ten days.

Anonymous said...

So are you saying that we're taking innocent people off the streets and torturing them so that they can confess to phony crimes? That's ridiculous. There's no comparison between what we're doing and what the NKVD did. Your sympathy would be better addressed to the victims of jihad.

Another anon

Stephen (aka Q) said...

A fine post, JA. I'd never thought about the effect of torture on the public officials responsible for interrogations.

Andrew Sullivan is a good resource, though I don't read him regularly.