Tag Archives: Alfred W. McCoy

The torture debate continues – with echoes of Algeria and Ulster

John Amato, over at the tremendous ‘virtual online magazine… OK, it’s a blog’ Crooksandliars, recently published an interview with Alfred W. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture. The interview was originally broadcast on Late Night Live – ABC Radio National, Australia. March 15, 2006, and as John points out, ‘considering the current events in the torture issue, it seems apropos to take another look at it now.’

McCoy is another of many to point out in simple easily-understood terms a number of key points in the torture debate, most notably, that the ‘ticking-bomb scenario’ so beloved of torture advocates, is an outright illusion that has never occurred in reality.

Others (of many) to point out not just the immorality and cruelty of torture, but its overall ineffectiveness – indeed, its contra-effectiveness – are Ray McGovern, 27-year CIA veteran, Clive Stafford-Smith, in his book Bad Men, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum in the article The Torture Myth, Ruth Blakeley, of the University of Kent, in her powerful article ‘Why torture?’, and Jean-Paul Sartre, in the preface to Henri Alleg’s first-hand description of being tortured in Algeria by the French, The Question. Sartre, indeed, sums up the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario neatly:

“How are the torturers justified? It is sometimes said that it is right to torture a man if his confession can save a hundred lives. This is nice hypocrisy. […] Was it to save lives that they scorched his nipples and pubic hair? No, they wanted to extract from him the address of the person who had hidden him. If he had talked, one more Communist would have been locked up, no more than that. […] These tortures bring a poor return: the Germans themselves ended by realising this in 1944; torture costs human lives but does not save them.” (Alleg 1958: 22)

John Amato continues with a piece entitled: “Not Only Is This Illegal and Immoral, It’s Stupid. Six Days Without Sleep Doesn’t Produce Useful Information”, strengthening the argument of the uselessness of torture…

The important issue at stake is the hard-lined pragmatic question of result. If all the moral and ethical arguments against torture were wheeled out to argue against its use, and yet, as Cheney pa and daughter would have the US public believe, genuine intelligence is indeed gained through the practice of torture (sorry – enhanced interrogation techniques, including mock executions, waterboarding, sleep deprivation and drill attacks – see Newsweek article – and these are only the declassified techniques…)… if this genuine intel is gained, then there would be a gap in the moral/ethical argument. The great debate at present in the US, and spilling over into the UK with regard the alleged participation/complicity of the MI5 in the torture of British citizens or residents oversees, is whether a) these techniques have really produced this intel of such value to homeland security and b) if so, could that intel (and perhaps more) have been gained through empathetic interrogation. As would be expected, the argument in favour of these techniques is promoted by hard right wingnuts like Bill O’Reilly on Fox, versus, well, versus all those liberal pansies whom big Bill so despises.

Interestingly, the debate has stirred some puddles that clearly had never really settled in their cultures’ memories – the French in Algeria and the British in Northern Ireland.