Defining Torture

Paul Waldman has an important article at The American Prospect addressing the defenders of torture and their, yes, tortured reasoning in defending American actions in the war on terror. He asks a question that defenders of torture cannot answer without contradicting themselves:

Here’s the question I’ve never heard someone like Rodriguez answer: Can you give a definition of torture that wouldn’t include waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation? I have no idea what such a definition might be, and I have to imagine that if they had any idea they would have offered one. Because here’s the definition of torture you’d think everyone could agree on: Torture is the infliction of extreme suffering for the purpose of extracting information or a confession. That’s not too hard to understand. The point is to create such agony that the subject will do anything, including give you information he’d prefer not to give you, to make the suffering stop. That’s the purpose of waterboarding, that’s the purpose of sleep deprivation (which, by the way, has been described by those subjected to it in places like the Soviet gulag to be worse than any physical pain they had ever experienced), and that’s the purpose of stress positions. The “enhanced” techniques that were used weren’t meant to trick detainees or win them over, they were meant to make them suffer until they begged for mercy.

So to repeat: If what the Bush administration did wasn’t torture, how would its apologists define the term?

And here’s another question they can’t answer honestly or coherently: If one of our enemies waterboarded American citizens, would you consider it torture then? The answer to that is obvious, because it’s not a hypothetical. We have charged citizens of other countries with war crimes, including the Japanese after WW2, for waterboarding American soldiers.

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