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February 18, 2008

Torture Always Comes Home

This is from an interview with Reed College Professor Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy:

REJALI: [T]orture does migrate, and there are some good examples of it both in American and French history. The basic idea here is that soldiers who get ahead torturing come back and take jobs as policemen, and private security, and they get ahead doing the same things they did in the army. And so torture comes home. Everyone knows waterboarding, but no one remembers that it was American soldiers coming back from the Philippines that introduced it to police in the early twentieth century. During the Philippine Insurgency in 1902, soldiers learned the old Spanish technique of using water tortures, and soon these same techniques appeared in police stations, especially throughout the South, as well as in military lockups during World War I. Likewise, the electrical techniques used in Vietnam appeared in the 1960s appeared in torturing African Americans on the south side of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s, and, as I argue in the book, that wasn’t just an accident.

So torture always comes home. And the techniques of this war are likely to show up in a neighborhood near you.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at February 18, 2008 07:14 PM

We'll be better off if they're more rigorous about it this time.

Posted by: uvw at February 18, 2008 09:15 PM

Thanks for the signed copy of the book, Jon.

Rejali teaches at my alma mater, just down the road from my home. Oregon Health Sciences University here in Portland also has an internationally-known center for the treatment of torture victims.

Posted by: darrelplant at February 18, 2008 09:23 PM

A JS thread where I can agree with everyone.

Playing with torture was an insanely evil act which will, at a minimum, have a negative impact on US society for years to come.

I would argue that there is always a "pro-torture" element in every human society, waiting for a chance to leap into action. America was weak and afraid enough to let that happen here. In fairness, in many parts of the world, the "pro-torture" element is blatantly in control all the time.

Now all we can do is keep fighting and hope we will be able to pound them back into latency. You can't stop the Cheney types from wanting to torture, you can only limit their opportunities.

Posted by: harold at February 18, 2008 10:06 PM

Thanks for highlighting this.

I've followed John Conroy's coverage of police torture in Chicago for a long time. As in Horton's examples of France/Algeria and the US/World now, officialdom insists that it really wasn't that bad/happened a long time ago/a few bad apples........ No one with any power is willing to confront the current Mayor/then States Attorney Daley who is implicated in the cover-up.

I can't get the HTML tags to work (?)- anyway, here's the link:

Posted by: Bruce F at February 18, 2008 10:45 PM

Thanks for posting this. I will definitely read the book and recommend it to friends. Several years ago, historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz said during a talk that she expected to see a spike in police brutality after soldiers returned from Iraq and took jobs as cops and prison guards. She noted that it happened after Vietnam and predicted that it would be worse this time, partly because peace and justice movements aren't as strong now in the US as they were in the 70s.

Posted by: deang at February 18, 2008 11:03 PM

oh brother, classic ATR jerking-off. Torture always comes home. A trenchent and seemingly morally wise statement. Let's see, how many people were water-boarded? Two? Or is it, at the outmost, six? Boy, those poor peoples in the the South Side better get ready for a wave of high level ex-CIA people who are going to be Chicago cops. And Abu Graib, the more pedestrian forms of prisoner mistreatment? Maybe a few hundred guards, of whom a few dozen will end up cops. And where? These are mostly kids from WV and AR. You think they're going to make Uncle Fred wear panties on his head when they arrest him for stealing some chickens? Complete utter non-sense. And yes, spending three months in Uzbekistan showed me the extent to which state torture can cow a population. Believe me, a smattering of non-fatal torture subject to more than few legal restraints is a far cry from unrestrained exercise by a lawless state apparatus. Oh, and guess what? Torture does work. But I haven't the time to lead you through the argument. But it most assuredly does.

Posted by: xyz at February 19, 2008 03:10 AM


Torture certainly works -- as a way of obtaining false confessions, which is the purpose for which the Uzbek secret police use it.

Posted by: Gag Halfrunt at February 19, 2008 06:36 AM

well, you're mostly right, although they do have a legitimate security concern in Fergana Valley. But OK, I'll rebut one common claim, that torture produces false confessions. Sure it does. But anything confessed can likely be verified as true or false. You torture me and I tell you where the bomb is. Go look and see if it's there. I tell you Ahmed lives on 367 45th St, well, maybe there is no Ahmed. The upside: potentially true and useful info. The downside: maybe some false info that can be shown to be so. And there is a world of difference between Uzbekistan and the US. I prefer spending time in Tashkent to being in Phlly, say, but I trust a Philly cop a thousand times more than an Uzbek cop. same for the security services and the military.

And as Richard Posner puts well, if there was a likelihood of a nuclear or atomic bomb exploding in a major population center, and torturing someone might reeal its location, no responsible government would refuse to do so. The real problem is knowing how to apply a proper standard for deciding when you can. That's the only relevent issue. Not jerk-off grand statements like "torture always comes home." puh-leeze Jon, you and your pals truly are jerk-off artists of the highest order.

Posted by: xyz at February 19, 2008 07:11 AM

xyz: How about somebody who doesn't know Ahmed or where the bomb is, how can torture "work" on them?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 19, 2008 10:19 AM

xyz: What if there is NO bomb? If it's a hoax, a false lead, do WE just keep torturing the guy until he produces a NONEXISTANT bomb?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 19, 2008 10:27 AM

xyz -

You are wrong on three levels.

At the most simple level, you are wrong in your assertion that "torture works", at least as far as the totality of the evidence (and not some anecdote of your own) shows. There is not a shred of evidence that the security or quality of life of any society is improved when torture is adopted. Historically, improvements in crime rate and security in western societies were coincident with elimination of official torture. This does not tell which trend "caused" the other, but even more so, it does not suggest that "torture works". Furthermore, evidence overwhelmingly suggests that patience and persuasion are far, far more effective in gathering intelligence.

At a second level, you are wrong to assume that simply because an evil policy "works" in some way, it should be adopted. Making it illegal to have dogs in the US would certainly "work" to reduce the incidence of dog bites, but I would not support such a policy. Even if a large amount of abusive and brutal torture produced a small incremental improvement in security (and it does not, but even if), I would still oppose torture.

Thirdly, by endorsing torture, you damage yourself. Perhaps you had some sort of personal experience with torture, and are conflicted. Or perhaps you are just engaging in sadistic right wing fantasies. At any rate, you would be better off not compromising your own ethics by defending the indefensible.

Posted by: harold at February 19, 2008 10:43 AM

well, it can strongly suggest that they don't know anything : ) and then the nice CIA people can let them go.

look, I don't have blind faith in the US government, but I think in a limited number of instances the govt needs the discretion to torture people, especially if they're Arabs, and I don't think the CIA is going to waste their limited number of opportunities by torturing people who really don't know anything.

I don't relish the use of torture, but to oppose it in all circumstances is rather like the 1st Amendment purists i.e. jerk-off parlor intellectuals or idiots who insist you can't restrict speech even a tiny tiny bit, it would be wrong to ban the Nazis on the verge of taking power, even if you knew the consequences, etc.

Posted by: xyz at February 19, 2008 10:43 AM

Given that I enjoy a good doggy steak once in a while, I certainly don't want to see dog ownership made illegal.

actually, one reason I consider myself an exile is that you can't buy horsemeat in America. It's OK to slaughter the animals and ship the meat to France, but I can't buy a horseburger in the US. And it's because of handwringing jerk-off animal lover people, who are dumber than you people, but less annoying because they pose as intellectuals. They love the lil' ponies and don't want people like me to enjoy eating them.

Posted by: xyz at February 19, 2008 10:52 AM

xyz: Why have a court system if torture can determine guilt or innocense?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 19, 2008 11:03 AM

o brother. I am only advocating the use of torture on an extremely selective basis, only when the value of the sought information is extremely high, the danger to life or property extremely high, and a reasoned judgment has been made that the odds of torture being effective are reasonably good. Well, unless the suspect is someone like Cornel "Puff Corny" West, and their crime is being an annoying jerk-off parlor intellectual (and bad writer), in which case they should be tortured merely for my enjoyment.

By the way, has that annoying cop-killer in PA been fried yet?

Posted by: xyz at February 19, 2008 11:10 AM

If the value of the information was that high, and torture the only real way to get it, there's no reason at all to make special exceptions to the law. You leave it to the discretion of the agent, does he save all those people and take a slap on the wrist down the line. Think of it as civil disobedience for improbable spy fantasies.

Posted by: buermann at February 19, 2008 11:47 AM

Who would determine if the torture was necessary or if it would be for entertainment?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 19, 2008 11:52 AM

Oh Finns are cool. A well organized society, and fantastic architecture, both 18th c and modern. And smart. Put a Finnish 8th grader up against any of you folks, I bet on the kid every time.

and no, you want explicit protocols and oversight for the regulation of torture, it is the last place for individual discretion.

Posted by: xyz at February 19, 2008 11:55 AM

yes, we will abuse prisoners only when it's absolutely needed. we will use the atomic bomb only when it's absolutely needed. we will burn only as much coal as is absolutely needed. we will read our political opponents' emails only when appropriate. we will do our jobs as we see fit. we will let you out when you're better.

Posted by: hapa at February 19, 2008 11:56 AM

anyway, after what we've done to iraq in a war of choice, it's hard not to rupture a blood vessel listening to arguments of how torture will be used with restraint.

Posted by: hapa at February 19, 2008 12:17 PM
Put a Finnish 8th grader up against any of you folks, I bet on the kid every time.

That's it right there.

More of that ubiquitous Finn-value worship; ideologically, the concept of spending money on educating 8th graders to be competitive with Yalies is just -- well, clearly anti-american and a threat. It gives our 8th graders unrealistic expectations. Like I'd spend money on them vs. arms development.

I need to remind you is that we can switch on "friends" like a manic depressive that can't find the meds. Having the pre-approved lists at the ready is more efficien than having to hunt down the chain of command for case-by-case approval. Suppose that the Prez is on a photo-op somewhere in Africa. He's giving a speech. Your ticking bomb is gonna go off before he can be briefed. or maybe in coitus. You don't disturb coitus if you plan ahead.

For efficiency, the approved list should be relatively inclusive. I suggest something along the lines of:

1. Approved -- everyone but Americans
2. Approved -- Americans deemed dangerous by the torturer-on-duty or prosecutor.

There -- that should cover the ticking bomb scenario adequately. And congress doesn't have to feel all embarrassed and sheepish every time this thing comes up. Inconveniently, congress has to show its ineptitude on a daily basis, and it's just inconsiderate and mean to keep doing that to them. They have legacies also that need polishing. But we selfishly disregard their needs with the ceaseless bitching from the peanut gallery.

Posted by: Ted at February 19, 2008 12:46 PM

I wonder how many Americans think the torture issue is all about what to do when there are ticking nuclear bombs, etc... In my personal experience people sometimes seem to think that's what it is all about. Some weeks ago I told an acquaintance that we'd tortured innocent people to death and he thought this was a crazy allegation on the level of the 9/11 Truthers who think Mossad was behind it all.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at February 19, 2008 01:08 PM

No need to accept the word of "jerk-off" posters about how wrong you are. In December 2006 the Intelligence Science Board released a very thorough review of interrogation techniques, looking as far back as medieval times and as recently as what psychology says about winning cooperation from unwilling subjects.

The conclusions were mostly that we don't have enough evidence, but some participants noted that the existing evidence seems to imply that harsher techniques are counterproductive.
(caution: it's a big document)

Bottom line: if you're doing to do such great damage to our strategic foreign policy goals (see: backlash against the British in Northern Ireland or the French in Algeria), you'd better have more than Jack Bauer fantasies and Uzbek false confessions to justify it.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at February 19, 2008 01:51 PM

WHO GITS TO TORTURE AND WHO DON'T? I mean can ANYBODY join in on the interrorgatin' as say more than a victim. PINKERTONS or the like, Eric Prince, can Eric Prince ( and or his agent)be given the right to torture someone?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at February 19, 2008 04:20 PM

Why, the government's only admitted to 100 detainee deaths, a mere 34 of those have been ruled homicides, with the thousands of individuals being indefinitely processed in our black sites and detention facilities we have our "explicit protocols and oversight for the regulation of torture" to thank for a low rate of attrition.

Making a conservative assumption that the thousands that have been successfully tortured - short of causing actual organ failure and death - all had ticking time bombs, millions of lives have been surely saved. The reason not one concrete example of such success, or even an example of passable intelligence gathering, has been revealed is because you're all a bunch of jerk-off salon intellectuals, who aren't worthy of such simple, elementary information. Instead, I have some blowhard nonsense to offer you, by way of an endless stream of insults.


Posted by: buermann at February 19, 2008 04:36 PM

Re "always comes home", maybe a little off-topic maybe not: went to the movies on Saturday to watch a kid flick with my little girl and her friend. During the previews a Martin Lawrence movie (College Road Trip, something like that) trailer comes up. One of the big yucks they just had to give us a taste of is Lawrence getting tasered.

Posted by: Thomas Nephew at February 19, 2008 05:03 PM

Torture does work, but not for getting reliable information. A moment's reflection will tell you that if someone's pulling your fingernails out, running voltage through your genitals, and/or filling your lungs with water, you're gonna say anything to get them to stop. And since white Americans tend to go on "hunches" and "gut feelings" (aka prejudice) more than reasoned evidence, the people captured and tortured won't have any information worth pursuing anyway. Torture does work to demoralize and terrorize a targeted population, sapping some of their resistance to domination. That's why the US has taught and promoted it for around 40 years and now openly advocates it. It has nothing to do with getting information; that's achieved with real intelligence work.

Posted by: deang at February 19, 2008 11:57 PM

deang, don't you mean if I torture you and you tell me where the bomb is, all I have to do is go look and see if it's there? Like when we tortured Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and found out where the bombs were, and went to Iraq to find em.

That worked great.

Posted by: buermann at February 20, 2008 02:11 AM

well, one objection based on some simple logic: the US has been in Afghanistan since, what, 2002, and Iraq since 2003? Surely if your "torture always comes home" thesis had any real basis, by now there should be at least one instance in which it has eventuated. But there isn't. So just how long should be the interval before "torture comes home," as always, you would assert. A decade? A century?

Posted by: xyz at February 20, 2008 03:19 AM

Another objection might be that they're not re-entering civilian life en masse in mid surge yet, and so long as we keep them over there, America is in no danger. For a lack of examples, all we need worry over is normal ole murderin sprees of the most sensitive souls to combat traumatization on lay-over:

"At his lowest point, in March 2006, he killed Nicole Marie Speirs, the 22-year-old mother of his twin children, drowning her in a bathtub without any evident provocation or reason."

Posted by: buermann at February 20, 2008 04:20 AM

"I looked around, I seen him on top of Davis, he hit him, he stuck him and he was hittin' him all in the back area in the kidney area and the lung area back in the back and the neck and skull area. He just started goin' on a rampage with him like I ain't never seen a man do. Never seen a man do that," Burgoyne says.

Asked what Richard was saying, Burgoyne says, "Said he had a family, screamin'. Said he had a family."

Burgoyne says he just stood there. "Last thing he said was he was dead. He was dead. He said it twice. And then I didn't hear no more sounds. Martinez kept stickin' him. Takin' his time just kept stickin' him and stickin' him and stickin' him. And he was puttin' the blade in and then churnin' it. That was it. It was over."

"You could've stopped him," Moriarty says. "You didn't even try."

"No," Burgoyne replies. "I explained to him verbally but not physically, no I didn't. Not when I saw his eyes. I saw the blood in his eyes and all you can do is see red. That was it. And he wanted to kill that guy. He wanted to. That was his thing. It scared the s--- outta me."


Next, all four soldiers drove to a convenience store where Burgoyne bought lighter fluid. Then they drove back to the woods.

Burgoyne says he poured lighter fluid on Richard's body, lit a match, and then ran away.

Asked how he could do this, he says: "It was like I had no conscience. He was a dead body. It was like I had lost control and I wanted to get back and that was the only way to do it. And that's what I thought off the top of my head. 'Burn him.’ "

A few nights later, Burgoyne, Martinez and Navarette went back to hide Richard's remains deeper in the woods.

Posted by: buermann at February 20, 2008 04:21 AM

Town by town across the United States, headlines have been telling similar stories. Lakewood, Washington: "Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife." Pierre, South Dakota: "Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress." Colorado Springs: "Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring."


The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in the United States, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment - along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems - appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.

Three-quarters of these veterans were still in the military at the time of the killing. More than half the killings involved guns, and the rest were stabbings, beatings, strangulations and bathtub drownings. Twenty-five offenders faced charges for murder, manslaughter or homicide for fatal car crashes resulting from drunken, reckless or suicidal driving.

The Pentagon does not keep track of such killings, most of which are prosecuted not by the military justice system but by civilian courts in state after state. Neither does the U.S. Justice Department.


[T]he same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, from 184 to 349 cases, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the homicide rate in America has been, on average, lower.

Posted by: buermann at February 20, 2008 04:23 AM

Well, that story is certainly suggests that the stress of combat drives a (smallish) number of soldiers and ex-soldiers to violence. I think to say that this supports the "interrogators who use torture will become cops and start torturing those poor residents on the South Side" thesis is a wild stretch. But I'll concede this has some potential relevance.

Posted by: xyz at February 20, 2008 06:46 AM

Torture does work. But I haven't the time to lead you through the argument. But it most assuredly does.
Posted by xyz at February 19, 2008 03:10 AM

Oh yes, it does work...mainly in extracting confessions...perhaps you volunteer for testing? for instance, do you fuck dogs, xyz? What you deny it? I am CERTAIN I could induce you to confess to it. Shall we try?

Posted by: konopelli/wgg at February 20, 2008 08:23 AM

Torture comes home? Shit, its already here an will only get worse, especially if the right wing psychos steal another election, as you know they will certainly try to do. Those scum will know that the Dem's should (but probably won't) come after them for their crimes too numerous to list here. But we already have cops tasing people and some die from it. We have cops already shoving things up people's asses (I personally believe the crazy right-right wingers are gay and hate themselves so much based on the hate they were taught to believe infrom hate filled parents, they act out in very gay ways and since they are right wing psychos they are quite cruel about it and are filled with nothing but hate) We have cops lying to put people in jail, e.g., Houston and Rampart PD's. Cops are going to be cruel beyond imagination if your theory is true and it certainly rings true. I dont even recognize this country anymore. And the right wing pychos think this country is liberal! God help us, that is all the hope I have left now. I'm reduced to hoping an invisable cloud being will come down and smite the scum now running this country. OH Jesus, God help us.

Posted by: Kel Brady at February 20, 2008 01:05 PM

buermann quoted from an article:

"Let's say they all did have PTSD, there's still no excuse for murdering a man like that, like they murdered my son," he says.

So I'm wondering, what is PTSD an excuse for?

All by themselves, the four letters don't seem so dangerous, and certainly, they're not well understood. Why hasn't anyone written the big book of PTSD excuses?

Note to writers: There could be coin here and debate appearances with Bill Kristol.

Posted by: Ted at February 20, 2008 02:15 PM

One quick note: torture isn't just an import. I wish I had the citation handy, but I have seen some reports about prison officials (not just lowest level) who lost their jobs in the US due to abuse of prisoners, and who ended up in the military's system for holding detainees (can't recall if it is because they are in the military or national guard, or because they get hired by private contractors).

That is, sending the "bad apples" abroad has been one way to corrupt the system for detaining & interrogating prisoners in the war, and to introduce torture/abuse.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at February 20, 2008 05:55 PM