King for a Day: Torture

The torture question is up in the blogosphere recurring on irregular intervals driven by currents of popular events or internal blog-driven waves. Long ago, I had a short series entitled “King for a Day” in which, irrespective of anybody elses (obviously inferior opinion), I opine on what I would do if granted absolute autocractic control over this land of ours. I return to this method for the question of torture.

  • Torture by US representatives and actors in all cases would be illegal at all times and for any reason. … However,
  • Certain branches, such as the special forces groups, would be trained in effective methods of the same … with the understanding that implemention of those techniques felt/found to be effective under a variety of circumstances … as for any other member of our armed services or domestic police forces would mean your career and quite likely your freedom for some time.
  • It might be pointed out, that members of our armed services are asked to lay down their lives on occaision and if they really felt required, might therefore also be asked to lay down their good name and career. Presidential pardon (or the autocratic equivalent) should not be depended upon to rescue the same.

But … what constitutes torture? That is a question on which I’m confused and for which I would use the public form and legislative process to arrive at some sort of consensus.
For, I myself, am and remain confused on two matters regarding the treatment of combatants.

The first is that I think it important that we distinguish and separate our treatment and the rights afforded to legal and illegal combatants for the sake of civilian populations. I have never ever, except on my blog, seen any discussion of this in the context (or frankly outside of it) on other blogs. As I think it important to distinguish our treatment in these circumstances … however I’m not so sure how to go about that. I personally think that being an illegal combatant very well might constitute a capital crime on the battlefield. However, in the past, a death sentence to enemy combatants often causes the enemy to be far less apt to surrender. In cases where this is to be avoided we must seek an anthropologists or cultural advice on how best to dissuade the enemy from following that course of action.

The second question is what exactly does torture mean? This is, I feel, likely a relative matter on a personal and cultural level. I, for example, would find an NFL practice (or game) session permanently damaging and likely constitute torture. A NFL player, would enjoy and finds his fulfillment through that. Likewise, the standard treatment of crew of a 18th  or 19th century sailing vessel would be torture for any modern 1st world inhabitant. Encountering scurvy as a regular and normal business practice just is beyond the pale for us. So a question, which I have not answered for myself, is if a degree of pain and discomfort is regular and customary with any and every police inquiry for those suspected of violent crime or behavior … is supplying the same really torture? Or is it only torture when such treatment goes “beyond the pale”?

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4 comments

  1. Anne says:

    If you go along the “society’s norm” argument far enough, was what Saddam Hussein did torture or not because everybody was doing it? Inquisition likewise.

  2. I pretty much agree with you!

  3. Mark says:

    Anne,
    I think, by and large, the Hussein’s society regarded what was done very often to his prisoners was torture. The issue is that they would also regard a lot of mistreatment that we would regard as torture as expected and not out of the ordinary.

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