During the 16th and 17th centuries, Europe (and Salem, Massachusetts) was struck by a wave of witches and warlocks. Thousands and thousands of witches were discovered and executed. The discovery of these evil-doers did pose a certain problem, however, since few would admit to being witches. But with the use of aggressive interrogation techniques, people could be persuaded to admit their dark and nefarious deeds. Thanks to the efforts of the heroic inquisitors, Europe and Salem were saved from the axis of evil.
Of course, some would suggest that perhaps there were not nearly so many witches as the interrogators found. Some would say that the aggressive interrogation techniques were overly persuasive. They suggest that the torture didn't stop when the interviewee told the truth, but only when he or she told the “truth” that the interrogator wanted to hear. The inquisitor wanted to hear a very simple truth: that the victim was in fact a witch. In eliciting a confession, his version of the truth was confirmed. And herein lies the dilemma of using torture as a forensic technique. For in general, torture does not stop when the victim tells the truth, but only when he tells the “truth” that the torturer is inclined to believe. And it gets worse. For the torturer is a member of an organization that might have an erroneous version of the truth, which it becomes the torturers job to confirm. Or there might be different versions of the truth contending with each other in the same organization, in which case the victims become painful pawns of various internal factions, changing the “truth” with the identity of the torturer.
For all of these reasons, torture is a very poor forensic technique. On the one hand, the torturer is confirmed in his “truth,” on the other, his “truth” may have no relation to reality. The “24” version is torture simply does not conform to reality; Jack Bauer is as likely to discover the accurate location of witches and warlocks as he is to discover the location of the bomb.
All of this would seem obvious, but it is not obvious to the Mssrs. Cheney and Bush. It did not seem obvious to their last attorney general, and it would appear that their current nominee, Mukasey, doesn't seem to understand these rather obvious distinctions, and seems to be unwilling to make a clear statement on an obvious issue. It is one thing when rogue elements of an intelligence agency go off the rails, or when one of the many “contractors” exceeds his instructions, but it is quite another thing when such policies are defended at the highest levels of the American Government.
The Democrats in the Senate are in a position to put a stop to this, once and for all. But they have caved-in—as they always do—to an administration that knows no moral limits to power. Elected on a wave of anti-war fervor, they have done nothing, and less than nothing. And they have already signed a blank check for Cheney and Bush to begin yet one more war before they leave office. If they can't get the simple issues like torture right, what can we expect of them?
Finally, there is the issue of hypocrisy. Nine low-level soldiers have been prosecuted for Abu Gharaib; none are above the rank of staff sergeant. Yet nothing that any of these soldiers did is as bad as what Mukasey proposes to do. The ranks go to jail and have their lives ruined for what are (by comparison) minor infractions, while the generals (and the attorney general) escape all blame while making torture the official policy of the United States.