Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jose Padilla and The Question of Torture

Three relevant articles in light of suspected al-Qaeda conspirator Jose Padilla’s conviction on Thursday: the Christian Science Monitor’s report (as part of a series) on the “extreme isolation” treatment that Padilla faced while under military custody; Harper’s Scott Horton’s reaction to what the case means in broader terms of justice; and Jane Meyer’s investigative piece for the New Yorker on the CIA’s use of "black sites" for interrogative purposes.

Some thoughts on the above:

--Assuming that the articles are mostly correct concerning their facts about the interrogation methods used against Padilla (and there is little reason to doubt this is so), then 1) he was tortured; and 2) his torture violates the Geneva Conventions and goes against U.S. historical and legal precedent, which is more than adequate cause for concern.

--Without attempting to generalize too broadly, it is probably easier for us to imagine torture in terms of the direct infliction of physical pain upon someone: William Wallace (as played by Mel Gibson)’s final moments in Braveheart, for example, or—more relevant to us—the prisoner abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib. The documentation of Padilla’s detainment forces us to think about the psychological aspects of torture methods like prisoner isolation, even if those methods do seem “painful” in a concrete sense.

--As Horton importantly notes, criticizing the use of torture against Padilla and other U.S. “enemy combatants” does not mean exemplifying them in a positive manner. Rather, it means that no one—regardless of their crimes—is entitled to face torture based primarily on moral and ethical grounds, and secondarily on pragmatic grounds (since torture is, as several of Meyer's sources detail, considered to be quite unreliable as a means of intelligence-gathering).

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