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 Definition The infliction of mental or physical pain, for punishment or as an interrogation technique. [d] [e]
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 Workgroup categories Law, Sociology and Military [Editors asked to check categories]
 Talk Archive 1  English language variant American English

Comments from an independent third party

I have been asked to look at this article and talk page, by one of the contributors. Having done so, I have a few comments to make.

(1) This is a really difficult topic. Its difficulty is not diminished by the fact that the current US administration thinks that it can redefine torture (away from international standards) in order to justify its recent policies of interrogation.

(2) For reasons derived from (1), it seems that American commentators have more difficulty with this topic than most other nationalities.

(3) The extent to which this topic is consistent with CZ "family friendly" policy is difficult to asses. The "family-friendly" policy of CZ has been criticised by several authors for its lack of clarity and potential ambiguity. I think I agree with this criticism, in the case of this specific article.

(4) Following international practice, I would advise that pictures of victims of torture are not suitable for CZ; on the other hand, most (but not all) torture apparatuses should be acceptable. The decision on what is acceptable should perhaps go to a committee of CZ.

(5) With regard to a specific point by Howard, that George is pushing a specific POV, I have several remarks. First, we do not allow these WP expressions on CZ. Secondly, if you mean that George is angry about US policy: his view is the dominant world view. The USA is in a minority of one on this issue. I have personally had similar conflicts with various US authors on current affairs, and find the pushing of the American point of view to be completely unacceptable, This also applies to Larry (Hi Larry).

(6) There does need to be some proper definition of torture offered here, and the current intro has been watered down to mean very little. It needs historical and legal focus, rather than some interference by people non-expert in the field. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 21:54, 16 October 2008 (UTC)

Actually, Martin, I am in a total lack of sympathy with the U.S. Administration on its positions about torture. In point of fact, I've studied intelligence for forty-odd years, both in open and non-public sources, including background material for organizations such as U.S. Army Special Forces, and never encountered anyone that I'd consider a competent interrogator recommend torture as a means of acquiring information. Further, however, I am far more angry about U.S. policy that starts unwarranted wars, or allows weapons it provides to be used in war crimes. In other words, I tend more to be more concerned with the hundreds of thousands, or millions, that are harmed, rather than the tens or hundereds in interrogration.
One continuing problem, which does not apply to U.S. run-prisons military or civilian, is the situation in which a host nation has a tradition of torture, and the U.S. is not in a position to walk away from it. There are psychological interrogration methods that some might consider and some might not -- for the record, I was a volunteer, in college, for a sensory deprivation tank, but broke the system since I had practiced meditation; I was let out, refreshed, after 18 hours, while others were hysterical in minutes.
There a huge amount of WWII and prewar material from the Nazis and Soviets that torturers, themselves, became mentally ill. While I've never done it to anyone, and I don't know if you'd call me a torture expert or not, I can give you anatomical details and prodedures on how such things are performed, from bastinado to suspension to electrical stimulation of the internal genitalia to the pros and cons of lighting slivers inserted under fingernails. Is that something that will add to the article? I think not. I agree that illustrations would be useless, although, if it became needful, I could probably scan or redraw them out of things on hand.
Now, what about an American that-which-is-not-a-POV, but the reaction of an American well versed in intelligence and warfare? A few places to look at what may be a less dramatic contribution, but that I think are meaningful, include Total Force Concept, numerous sub-articles of Vietnam War (an ongoing effort) where I pruned inaccuracies and ideological slant. (Not finished, but Gulf of Tonkin incident, anyone?) Project for the New American Century? Stovepiping? I still must write Weinberger-Powell Doctrine.
So, as an American, I find a higher priority in patterns of manipulation that led to major wars, rather than the more spectactular examples of useless interrogation. When i have the time, a bit more about James Jesus Angleton (e.g, Counterintelligence#Counterintelligence Missions, Anatoliy Golytsin, and Peter Deriabin might explain some intelligence chaos.
I have some very substantial articles here, mostly written by myself alone at The Other Place,about the craft of intelligence, and the general advice that torture is, bluntly, stupid. Sadly, there's very little interest, it seems, in less sensational articles that look at an entire process, rather than specific failures. Start with Human-source intelligence, and keep reading.
Martin, you really don't want my opinion of George W. Bush here, as, unless it was to compare him to Dick Cheney, it would violate not just family friendliness, but sanity-friendliness. Nevertheless, if there's (no doubt) international anger, document the anger, who said it, and under what conditions. Poorly drawn figures are not enlightening. Howard C. Berkowitz 22:54, 16 October 2008 (UTC)
Howard: I have to confess that I had not envisioned you as a typical American! On the other hand, there are many possible perspectives on torture, and for those less familiar with the literature, some of the dramatic recent examples may be both shocking and enlightening. If you can negotiate reasonable compromises with other authors on this page, this would be best. Let's not forget that the audience for CZ is not radically different from that for WP: the difference lies in (a) how we collaborate, and (b) the scientific validity of our articles. I am not askijng you to compromise on either of these points. Martin Baldwin-Edwards 23:08, 16 October 2008 (UTC)
Maybe we can get an article out of this. One immediate thought, however, that if one is going to do anything other than compare torture devices, the scope of a specific article needs to be limited. Like it or not, the Inquisition, and even the Great Terror, did not have scientific advice. The most valuable work is apt to be post 1940 or 1950.
As a starting point, I believe anyone making a serious attempt to understand the phenomenon must have read Phil Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram. Zimbardo, in particular, is a testimomy of what undersupervised prison guards do. In speaking with friends that served in Iraq, one question came out again and again: "where were the sergeants and lieutenants"? Unless you are asking for catastrophe, you don't let guards operate without close supervision.
Perhaps not quite as much on target, but still relevant, is Robert Jay Lifton's The Nazi Doctors, which is now online: I mention it because it is worth considering his concept of "doubling", in which an otherwise rational physician compartment his psyche and becake a killer. As an aside, the example of Ernst B., as a physician, while an ideological Nazi, by every account would do nothing but heal, is fascinating.
The best unclassified source, by, incidentally a military interrogator, is Sedgwick Tourison Jr.'s Conversations with Victor Charlie: an Interrogator's Story While a show of omnscience (with massive background research) helped, no one considered physical abuse; he stopped the South Vietnamese from doing whenever possible. I'm merely going to say that I've seen classified interrogation references that definitely involved psychological pressure, but never a U.S. one recommending physical abuse. Roger Triquier of France, yes. Many Soviet sources, yes.
We know that CIA contractors "Other Government Agency" if not CIA personnel were in place at Abu Ghraib. While I'm not saying this with great approval, let me offer some reasonably validated attempts of what was done when CIA had complete control: Nguyen Van Tai ( I;m hunting for one on Peter Deriabin, in a U.S. prison for around 3+ years. Unfortunately, while there are interrogation reviews, I haven't found them.
Perhaps there's an Ockham's Razor question here. During the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson and civilian aides met every Tuesday for lunch and planning air attacks on North Vietnam. No one in that room had ever flown a combat aircraft, done target analysis, etc. I don't know of human intelligence professionals that rely on physician duress.
I have an awful feeling that a good deal of the idea of abuse may have started (names symbolic, not accusation) with Cheney and Rumsfeld demanding to "turn up the pressure", and people who were also not HUMINT professionals wanted to be seen to be "doing something."
I really would like to find some American intelligence personnel who believe these methods were useful. Disorientation and sensory deprivation, yes. I have this horrible mental image that these atrocities came from grownups who used to pull wings off flies when children. I'm baffled on why anyone thought this was a good idea.
Of course, Rumsfeld & Co. didn't bother to read the OPERATION RANKIN CASE C planning for the occupation of WWII Germany, a much easier task. He didn't listent to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who said the minimum effective occupation force would be at least 300,000, with language and cultural training.
Let's agree that there were acts of torture. I can see current politicians, especially that don't have to come in direct touch with the situation, ordering it. Remember, on the one occasion when Heinrich Himmler watched a genocidal gassing, he fainted.
I shall not make specific comments on any current politician, although I can point you to some incredibly bad, now-declassified transcripts between Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara. I'm even more depressed now -- I though LBJ was delibarately endangering American pilots, but now it's clear that neither of them had any idea of the realities of the strike mission they were ordering. Howard C. Berkowitz 00:25, 17 October 2008 (UTC)

After reflection

I have moved the specific national material from the article below onto the talk page. It does not seem balanced to discuss three nations of the hundreds that have practiced torture, no matter how indignant someone may be about the policies of a given country. Policies do not clarify the nature of torture.

Trinquier is relevant not because he is French, but because he is the principal Western theoretical advocate of it. Other French opinion is relevant. Arguments, however, about whether waterboarding is or is not torture (I personally accept that it is) may be relevant under the discussion of that technique, but the policies of a particular set of politicians do not define the topic.

===Soviet Union=== Torture was widespread in Joseph Stalin's Great Terror. Often, a priority was to obtain a confession for use in show trials and for propaganda.

How is it possible that a person confesses to crimes which he has not committed? Only in one way — because of applications of physical methods of pressuring him, tortures, bringing him to a state of unconsciousness, depriving him of his judgment, taking away his human dignity. In this manner were "confessions" obtained. — Nikita Khruschev

===United States===

Under the George W. Bush Administration, the President asserted that his authority as commander-in-chief was sufficient to use extraordinary measures in what the administration termed the war on terror. This included methods recognized as torture, at facilities outside the United States, including the Guantanamo detention camp. Prior to the end of this administration, Susan Crawford, a retired judge and the convening authority that decides whether prisoners are to be sent to trial, stated

We tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani...His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution/ The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge [to call it torture][1]

The Barack Obama administration has issued orders forbidding the use of torture, as well as the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo. The restrictions apply both to the military and to the Central Intelligence Agency. [2]

Howard C. Berkowitz 07:23, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

This material is moving to nation-specific articles, such as intelligence interrogation, U.S., George W. Bush Administration or Intelligence interrogation, Soviet Union, Great Terror, under the top-level article, interrogation.

Torture in classical times

"Ancient peoples are known to have inflicted extreme pain as a punishment, without necessarily intending death. Some means of capital punishment were meant to be extremely painful, such as crucifixion, impalement, boiling alive, being torn apart by draft animals, etc., were intended to be fatal, to cause a long agonizing death.

I moved this out of the main article for two reasons: what is the date range of "classical times"? Do they, for example, include the Inquisition?

Further, the reference to capital punishment is confusing, given the U.N. and other acceptance of capital punishment in and of itself. Cruel means of capital punishment belong in an article on capital punishment, since the most widely accepted modern definitions torture do not consider it having an objective of causing death. Death may, of course, happen, but it confuses the torture discussion to bring in capital punishment. Howard C. Berkowitz 18:40, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

I just noticed this section. "Ancient peoples" is a very imprecise way of referring to a long cultural practice-- it would be more accurate to say "In classical antiquity" or "In ancient Greek and Roman civilization." Interestingly, torture was widely used in classical antiquity as a means of extracting useful information from slaves-- slaves were considered to be unreliable in court unless the information obtained from them had been extracted by torture. So torture definitely happened in Rome and Greece, and may have also taken place in the Medieval West. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, torture continued throughout the Byzantine Empire (mutilation and blinding was also popular for political figures).
I'm going to have to check about the medieval West and the world of Islam. I know capital punishment was popular in both places, but I'm having a difficult time thinking of torture per se... Brian P. Long 20:57, 27 February 2009 (UTC)

What place, if any, do specific details about the modern use of torture have on the citizendium?

Some comments Howard made on another talk page raised some questions for me that I thought it would be more appropriate to ask for clarification here.

Howard wrote:

I don't mind accurate description of reprehensible conduct. I do mind taking a specific U.S. example and assuming that is the way it is done by all countries, or indeed all U.S. officials.
...human rights/abuse issue[s]... doesn't belong in an article about a specific captive. It belongs in a more general article about the treatment of prisoners.

No offense, but I don't understand various aspects of these comments.

First, who has the authority to characterize conduct as reprehensible? Officials would characterize the Guantanamo captives' travel conditions as sensible precautions.

When an individual has experienced something remarkable I don't understand why that remarkable experience doesn't merit coverage in the article on the individual.

The CIA has acknowledged waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abdul Al Nashiri. Can I ask you to explain yourself more specifically, using waterboarding as an example? We now have an article on torture. Can I assume you agree that the article on torture could include referenced, neutral material on waterboarding? And if we had enough referenced, neutral material on waterboarding, or other torture techniques, can I assume you would agree that separate articles on specific techniques should be spun off?

What about those three captives? Their articles could:

  1. avoid all mention of waterboarding;
  2. state that the CIA acknowledged waterboarding them, with zero context;
  3. state that the CIA acknowledged waterboarding them, with a sentence, or paragraph of context, and a link to the main place where waterboarding was discussed more generally;
  4. state that the CIA acknowledged waterboarding them, provide that sentence, or paragraph, of context, and add anything that was unique, or remarkable, about what had been reported about that individual's experience of waterboarding. (KSM was widely reported to have resisted waterboarding to a remarkable extent, that impressed his interrogators. Abu Zubaydah, on the other hand, is reported to have caved in right away.) And provide a link to the more general discussion of waterboarding;
  5. state that the CIA acknowledged waterboarding them, provide that sentence, or paragraph, of context, provide a link to a more general discussion of waterboarding -- and reserve the specific remarkable details, like that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed endured more than two minutes of waterboarding at a time, to the more general discussion of waterboarding in general;
  6. Some combination of the above -- but without the link to the general discussion of waterboarding;

I included the last option just for completeness. I think it would be a very bad idea.

From what you said above, it would seem your position is the first, that the articles on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Al Nashiri shouldn't mention the documentable fact that the CIA has acknowledged waterboarding them. If so, I really hope you can explain your position more fully, because it seems to me that the first choice would serve to obfuscate the clear historical record.

What about the specific details about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's waterboarding? What specific details do you think belong? George Swan 22:12, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

First, please discuss my specific material in another article on the talk page to this article; do not unilaterally choose to bring the commentary to another article. I must say I find the presentation here argumentative, and focused on Guantanamo and specific U.S. practices rather than the subject of this article, which is "Torture". Not U.S. torture, not torture in Guantanamo, not U.S. interrogation policy, not George W. Bush Administration policy on torture. All those belong in CZ, but in specialized articles. Torture, interrogation, and related issues are far broader than the U.S., and I believe it violates CZ: Neutrality Policy to make U.S. activity the core of more general articles. I am working on a number of articles in those areas, but they are not Guantanamo-specific. Where appropriate, they are Guantanamo-inclusive. There should be Guantanamo-specific articles on Guantanamo-specific topics, such as JTF-160/JTF-170/JTF-GTMO and their policy guidance.
This article on torture should contain general information on techniques using water. I do not think that the specific details on any individual torture, or indeed national policies on torture, belong in this article: this is about what torture is, not who uses it and how other than to set histories of techniques and trace the diffusion of torture. In other words, if the CIA introduced a technique and it did or did not diffuse, that is relevant here. Also, I am being sensitive to the family friendliness policy not to get excessively detailed on the methods, detailed and graphic descriptions of which are widely available.
Specific use by the CIA and other elements of the U.S. government, as well as defining policies, belong in an article tentatively titled U.S. policy on interrogation; I'm working on a version in my sandbox, which will probably split into subarticles. Conflating waterboarding and interrogation and prisoner treatment simply confuses; not all interrogation is torture, although the George W. Bush Administration certainly pushed the envelope, at a level up to and including the White House. Howard C. Berkowitz 11:00, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

What is the point here?

Taken from the article:

The definition of 'torture' is subject to considerable debate, however, due to the ethical and political questions surrounding torture.[3]

Of course there is debate. Is that all there is to say? Indeed, debate about the ethical and political questions surrounding torture is so extensive as to warrant a brief mention and a subarticle, not a cryptic mention of a single source. Howard C. Berkowitz 11:02, 24 February 2009 (UTC)

Not a history article

This article discusses Motivations, Intimidation, Confessions, Torture as information-gathering, Legal and ethical concerns, techniques & methods, and resistance. There is no historical discussion of torture here. Perhaps an article Torture in history. But until then, I've removed this article from the history group. Historical moments are mentioned here and there (i.e. Korea or the Wickersham Commission), but there is no historical context or narrative. Why did the US develop a torture resistance program during the Korean war and not earlier? How did the program change in later years? Why was it changed? How did it differ from other programs in other countries in the 1950s? What were the lessons from WWII that led the US to develop such a program? etc., etc. The point is that this article discusses torture more as a sociological, political, and legal phenomenon than a historical one, and that's fine. It doesn't need to be a history article. Russell D. Jones 15:59, 25 February 2009 (UTC)

I have no problem with that; I don't think I assigned the original categories. As you may have noticed, I moved the medieval torture, except where it contributed to the development of techniques. I see this as an article about what torture is; I'm inclined to move the group reports condemning it to an article on ethics, if they do not have a role in law or professional discipline.
There is more of a historical perspective, Interrogation, which is bound to split into several articles by the time it hits mainspace. If anything, this article might interest you from the sociology of technology/history of science standpoint.
To address some of your other questions, torture resistance, other than its contributions to the development of torture, is more a matter for other articles. Thought reform comes closer to that perspective of "why". Actually, the U.S., other than for intelligence personnel and in a limited way, didn't really deal with torture resistance until after Korea. OSS people had some training in resistance, and also were given suicide pills. The concept then was to avoid disclosure, and, usually, underground groups would disperse quickly. Sometimes violated, but personnel with truly critical information were never supposed to be in positions where they might be captured, which, to some extent, is still policy. SERE is for aircrew, special operations forces, and others at high risk of capture. The trigger to develop SERE was Korea and Vietnam, not especially WWII. Howard C. Berkowitz 06:28, 26 February 2009 (UTC)

Great job

I really think you've done an excellent job here of treating a very difficult subject in a cool and neutral manner. Personally, I'd rather see less detail about the methods of torture except where they are used to make a particular direct point (e.g. about what constitutes torture and what does not). Cataloguing methods seems unsavoury and endless.

It would be very helpful to explain acronyms (SERE etc) and explain who the sources are. Gareth Leng 11:18, 11 March 2009 (UTC)

There is the need, I believe, for a taxonomy of torture methods, with detail insofar to document the diffusion of terror. Rejali's analytical model is quite useful for understanding whether various groups/nations did, or did not, collaborate on terror methods, including whether a nation routinely tortured before another country advised or cooperated with it.
Believe me, for many reasons, both research and family-friendliness, I kept much detail out of this article. Still, I think it is important to establish the taxonomy so a particular practice can be categorized. For example, "waterboarding" is much in the news, but, even in the U.S. report, seems to have involved at least two distinct methods, one of "dry" asphyxia and triggering gag reflexes, and one actually admitting water to the respiratory tract and causing "wet" asphyxia. The latter, of course, is far more likely to kill. Some journalists generically refer to "water torture", which ranges to principally psychological to thinks that are merely disguise capital punishment.
What would you think of keeping thing more biological/psychological in the main article, and then going to subarticle? For example, I believe it is important, when waterboarding is portrayed in the news, to show that it has many antecedents, especially medieval Dutch. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:16, 11 March 2009 (UTC)
Let me note that there are a fair number of redirects to sections here; be careful about deleting. It may be appropriate to go to a subarticle if need be, but I don't want to break wikilinks.
Also, since this has been an almost total rewrite, we should archive much of the discussion here. Unfortunately, I've either forgotten the mechanics of archiving or something has changed. IHoward C. Berkowitz 18:41, 11 March 2009 (UTC)

A relevant paper in press

Didn't want to start the bibliography with this one, so I post it here: Torturing the brain: On the folk psychology and folk neurobiology motivating ‘enhanced and coercive interrogation techniques’. --Daniel Mietchen 10:40, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

Daniel, do you have free or institutionally paid access to the document? I don't. Howard C. Berkowitz 15:00, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

Explanations for torture's inefficacy in information-gathering

The article notes that torture is rarely effective in gathering accurate intelligence information but it doesn't explain why. The most obvious explanation that I know is that torture is likely to produce false confessions--there is a good quote by Khruschev in the article, but that's not in relation to the subheading in question. I don't feel qualified to add anything to the article, but I did want to point this out. Nick Bagnall 14:18, 28 March 2010 (UTC)

Sure Nick, that is reasonable. Do feel free to take a stab at it if you want. I'm sure Howard will help clean it up. D. Matt Innis 18:26, 28 March 2010 (UTC)
See interrogation and coercive interrogation for more on that point. Howard C. Berkowitz 18:41, 28 March 2010 (UTC)
  1. Bob Woodward (January 14, 2009), "Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official: Trial Overseer Cites 'Abusive' Methods Against 9/11 Suspect", Washington Post
  2. Mike Mount (January 22, 2009), "Obama gives military's interrogation rules to CIA", Cable News Network
  3. Alice Bullard. Human Rights in Crisis, Google Books. Retrieved on 2008-10-12.