The medieval version of "waterboarding"
Can someone explain something really basic to me? It has taken me a while to digest reports like this and this and comment like this about the US playing fast and loose with the Geneva Convention and basic human rights in the War on Terror. Here is an example of the kind of thing I am talking about. It is called "waterboarding". It is not the result of a few CIA officers getting out of control in one of those secret prisons in central Europe. It seems to be in the manual:
Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.Anyway, the really basic thing I don't get is the insistent rhetoric which drums away as a justification for these violations of the normal rules of war and of human rights. This discourse has it that we are fighting an exceptional and unprecedented war in which the merest scrap of information about the enemy's plans might save thousands of lives. It seems a powerful line but, leaving aside the observation that torture is a systemic disease that has always threatened to corrupt and degrade intelligence gathering agencies, destroying their ability to provide accurate information to leaders, the really basic question I need answering is this:
According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess. [source]
Isn't it true that in all wars the merest scrap of information about the enemy's plans might save thousands of lives?
I mean, in World War Two, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost or saved due to good or poor intelligence gathering. So is there anything really new about this? Maybe it is right to break the existing rules, but why are we framing the debate as if we are facing a novel dilemma?