If you watched Batman when you were growing up, chances are you saw him torture someone. If you watched Jack Bauer from the hit show 24, chances are even better that torture scenes were involved. And if you watched the Netflix show Daredevil, you probably saw it in almost every single episode.
The problem with relying on the effectiveness of torture in this context is that it’s a dramatic plot device. In these situations torture has to work or else the plot won’t move forward. But in reality torture isn’t done by people in menacing bat-suits or people who have only twenty-four hours exactly until people are going to die. Torture is not only immoral but almost always ineffective.
But try telling that to the CIA and Department of Defense.
Back in December the Senate Intelligence Committee did exactly that when they published a report on the CIA’s use of torture. It revealed tactics like Russian roulette, water boarding, and as John Oliver recently reported, “forced rectal rehydration”. Rectal rehydration involves serving prisoners liquified food by force-feeding it through a tube inserted into the prisoner’s rectum.
Adding to this, the Christian Science Monitor and other outlets like the New York Times recently revealed a damning 542-page report. According to the report, the American Psychological Association (APA) aided the CIA by rebuffing critics of the CIA’s fifteen-year-long “enhanced interrogation.” It did this by deliberately “hiding its head in the sand” about the existence of CIA torture, and even softening its ethical guidelines in order to give tacit approval to the CIA’s techniques. The report also reveals close ties between DOD and APA staff members, as well as an eagerness in the higher ranks of the APA to curry favor with the DOD.
A recent NDAA amendment passed in mid-June makes it a lot harder for the CIA to torture–a good step forward. But it’s also worth noting that torture isn’t “beneath us” as Oliver suggests. It’s never been “beneath” the US government to torture people, to wage unjust wars, to unjustly imprison millions of people for non-violent offenses, and so on.
But it’s also not something that’s worked for the CIA. The alternative of rapport-building has been studied and found to be far more effective.
And just in strategic terms, torture is a bad idea because the tortured are likely to hold resentments which may ultimately lead to the very acts the torture was trying to prevent. It also tarnishes America’s image abroad and creates distrust of Americans among foreign populations leading to the kind of blowback Americans suffered on 9/11.
No matter how you slice it, torture needs to stop.
And no, NDAA amendments aren’t good enough. Reform needs to come from the masses–from a general cultural revulsion of torture. According to the numbers Oliver cites in his video on torture, we still have a long way to go.
One way to move forward is to stop glamorizing torture as a successful means to stop crime or discover it. It’s an immoral, nonstrategic and generally unsound method of trying to obtain information, and worse yet, it often irreparably harms the victim.
The new video game Batman Arkham Knight shows a few scenarios where the tortured criminal gives the wrong info or leads Batman into traps. As unfortunate as that may be for Batman, hopefully it spells a more realistic view of torture in the future.
In the end, institutions that lie, cheat, steal and kill, supposedly in order to maintain “order” and “solve crime,” should be treated with suspicion and contempt. That includes the government and its entire national “defense” regime.