Not in MY name! A collection of quotes on the past, present, and future of the practice of torture / Selected and arranged by Ella Mazel


Detailed Table of Contents


1. What is torture?

2. The more things change ...

3. The purpose of torture

4. The "rules" of torture

5. The techniques of interrogation

6. Can torture ever be justified?

7. What about terrorism?

8. Secrecy and public relations

9. Does torture get results?

10. The torturers

11. The victims

12. Human rights

Index of sources

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6. Can torture ever be justified?

[Declaring the conventions inapplicable would] reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva Conventions and undermine the protections of the laws of war for our troops . . . [and] public support among critical allies.
Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State, quoted in Neil A. Lewis, "Justice Memos Explained How to Skip Prisoner Rights," NY Times, 5/21/2004

Justification of torture . . .

In the 17th century, Descartes' famous duality of physical body and spiritual soul ratified . . . the strict separation of these two realms. Torture continued . . . but its rationale was now that the body's pain was the physical lever. . . to force an individual to utter truths held privately in the mind.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

The principal source of the belief that dissent must be crushed by every means and any means, has been the United States. Our indoctrination of foreign troops provided a justification for torture in the jail cells of Latin America. . . . foreign policemen were taught that in the war against international communism, they were "the first line of defense."

A. J. Langguth, The Mind of a Torturer, The Nation, 6/24/1978

States which practice torture also resort to legal fictions and conveniences, the by now customary "emergency" statutes, which suspend constitutional rights, including the writ of habeas corpus, and facilitate arrest, detention, and interrogation.

Kate Millett, The Politics of Cruelty, 1994

Torture is both unlawful and morally abhorrent. But what about gathering intelligence from suspected or proven terrorists by codified, regulated, manipulative interrogation? Information thus acquired can save thousands of lives. Will we now allow the pendulum to swing back to "name, rank, serial number," as if suspected terrorists planning the bombing of civilians were uniformed prisoners of war obeying the rules of war?

William Safire, "Rumsfeld Should Stay," NY Times Op Ed, 5/10/2004

A letter to the International Committee of the Red Cross over the signature of Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski was prepared by military lawyers. The letter . . . contended that isolating some inmates at the prison [Abu Ghraib] for interrogation bccause of their significant intelligence value was a "military necessity," and said prisoners held as security risks could legally be treated differently from prisoners of war or ordinary criminals.

Neil A. Lewis, "Documents Build a Case for Working Outside the Laws on Interrogating Prisoners," NY Times, 6/9/2004

These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in Cellblock 1-A or 1-B . . . they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands, and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.

Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK), quoted in Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others," NY Times Magazine, 5/23/2004

Rush Limbaugh . . . said that the torture in Abu Ghraib was a "brilliant maneuver" and that the photos were "good old American pornography," and that the actions portrayed were simply those of "people having a good time and needing to blow off steam."

Al Gore, Address, MoveOn PAC, 5/26/2004

It is repugnant to learn that one's country's military forces are engaging in torture. It is worse to learn that the torture is widespread. It is worse still to learn that the torture was rationalized and sanctioned in long memorandums written by people at the highest level of the government.

Jonathan Schell, "What Is Wrong With Torture," The Nation, 2/7/2005

Reading through the memoranda written by Bush administration lawyers on how prisoners of the "war on terror" can be treated is a strange experience. The memos read like the advice of a mob lawyer to a mafia don on how to skirt the law and stay out of prison. . . . The torture and death of prisoners, the end result of cool legal abstractions, have a powerful claim on our national conscience.

Anthony Lewis, "Making Torture Legal," The New York Review of Books, 7/15/2004

A common thread runs through . . . the popular liberal leitmotif of the awful America appallingly torturing innocent people. Maybe we should worry a little less about how terrorists are being treated in prison and a little more about what they are doing to us. Yes, I know that as Americans we should be expected to hold ourselves to higher standards, but this is the war on terror, and these are terrorists. . . . If a few embarrassing pictures were taken, it is hardly grounds for the scathing attacks on Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft or America in general.

Jamie Valeriano, To the Editor, NY Times, 1/8/2005

If you've caught someone and you know that person has information, then torture for tactical information is justifiable. But if it cannot produce useful information, it is morally reprehensible.

Alfred Rubin, professor emeritus of international law, Fletcher School at Tufts University, quoted in Jim Cronin, "Agonizing Issue," Boston Globe Magazine, 1/30/2005

. . . vs. opposition to torture

Doubts have been expressed about the use of torture for just about as long as torture has been used . . . The reservations of Cicero and Seneca in classical times would be picked up by St. Augustine in the early centuries of the Christian church -- and his concerns would strike a chord in medieval Europe. Not until the days of Enlightenment, however, do we see something like a wholesale turning away from torture.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

As early as the 16th century the French thinker Montaigne had registered his distaste for what he regarded as nothing less than state-sponsored sadism. . . His protest was increasingly taken up in the century that followed, and by the18th century writers such as Voltaire were speaking out scathingly against the barbarity of torture.

Michael Kerrigan, The Instruments of Torture, 2001

The moment an attempt is made to justify any form of torture, whatever the circumstances may be, there arises the possibility of creating a dangerous precedent. . . . Such justification acts . . . as a means of suppressing or obviating any sense of injustice in society as a whole, and in those individuals immediately and specifically concerned with the infliction of the torture. . . . On these lines it is easy to justify any form of barbarity, and it is in this way that, through the ages, the most monstrous inquisitions and persecutions have been vindicated. Thus the justification, in our own time, of . . . Bolshevist atrocities, of "Black-and-Tan" outrages, of . . . "third degree" methods.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Torture Throughout The Ages, 1959

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. . . . Arrests are made at random. Every Arab can be "questioned" at will. The majority of the tortured say nothing because they have nothing to say unless, to avoid torture, they agree to bear false witness or confess to a crime they have not committed.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Introduction to Henri Alleg, The Question, 1958

In 1951, as a young paramilitary officer trainee in the C.I.A., I heard my instructors say that to win the cold war, "fighting fire with fire" would be required. I remember asking, how, if we did that, we could maintain any distinction between what we stood for, and what our communist opponents represented. I was told to sit down and shut up.

Donald P. Gregg, "Fight Fire With Compassion," NY Times Op Ed, 6/10/2004

It is . . . important to confront the whole politics of denial. . . Some Americans have responded to the [Abu Ghraib] scandal with ridiculous retorts in the vein of "they are worse than us."

Lisa Hajjar, "Torture and the Politics of Denial," In These Times, 6/21/2004

Recent reports indicate that Bush administration lawyers, in their struggles to deal with terrorism, wrote memos in 2003 pushing aside longstanding prohibitions on the use of torture by Americans. . . . I can think of nothing that can more devastatingly undercut America's standing in the world or, more important, our view of ourselves, than these decisions.

Donald P. Gregg, "Fight Fire With Compassion," NY Times Op Ed, 6/10/2004

The newly released presidential memo of Feb. 7, 2002, talks about treating detainees humanely and refers comfortingly to American values. . . . While Mr. Bush's 2002 memo does not condone torture, it opens loopholes in the treatment of prisoners that the military could drive a Hummer through -- and some clearly did.

Editorial, "The White House Papers," NY Times, 6/24/2004

Where I think there is a legitimate worry in Europe is whether or not the administration and others are as committed to the application of the Geneva Conventions as we are. I think once you start hair-splitting about the Geneva Conventions you risk getting into a good deal of difficulty.

Chris Patten, European Union commissioner for external affairs, quoted in Elisabeth Bumiller, "Bush Gets Chilly Reception On Eve of Meeting in Ireland," NY Times, 6/26/2004

Torture destroys the soul of the torturer even as it destroys the body of his victim. The boundary between humane treatment of prisoners and torture is perhaps the clearest boundary in existence between civilization and barbarism.

Jonathan Schell, "What Is Wrong With Torture," The Nation, 2/7/2005

Once you open the door to torture, once you start legitimizing it in any way, you have broken the absolute taboo. President Bush had it right in his State of the Union address when he was describing various forms of torture by Saddam Hussein and he said, "If this isn't evil, then evil has no meaning."

Ken Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch, CNN broadcast with Wolf Blitzer and Alan Dershowitz, 3/4/2003

Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators. . . . Jettisoning the rule of law to permit . . . torture is not a defensible policy for a civilized nation. It's wrong. And nothing good can come from it.

Bob Herbert, "Torture, American Style," NY Times Op Ed, 2/11/2005

Torture is not wrong because someone else thinks it is wrong or because others, in retaliation for torture by Americans, may torture Americans. It is the torture that is wrong. Torture is wrong because it inflicts unspeakable pain upon the body of a fellow human being who is entirely at our mercy. . . . The inequality is total.

Jonathan Schell, "What Is Wrong With Torture," The Nation, 2/7/2005

Torture has a way of undermining the forces using it, as it did with the French Army in Algeria. . . . By using torture, we Americans transform ourselves into the very caricature our enemies have sought to make of us. . . . [It] is self-defeating; for a strong country it is in the end a strategy of weakness. . . . the road back -- to justice, order and propriety -- will be very long. Torture will belong to us all.

Mark Danner, "We Are All Torturers Now," NY Times Op Ed, 1/6/2005

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