Can the use of torture ever be justified?

Khan being threatened with torture in the 1935 move: Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
Mohammed Khan being threatened with torture in the 1935 move: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.

“WE HAVE WAYS OF MAKING YOU TALK,” is actually a misquote. Often heard in a diabolical German accent, it isn’t correct. According to a blogger we know only as “SubtropicBob,” it originated in the 1935 movie, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, starring Gary Cooper.

Says Mr. Bob: “At one point, the three officers are captured by Mohammed Khan. Over a deceptively cordial dinner, Mohammed Khan says he will let them go if they give him some information he wants. When Franchot Tone flippantly refuses, he makes his ominous threat — in perfectly good English, with no silly accent.

Mohammed Khan: ‘You have only to answer two very simple questions. By what route is the ammunition train coming? And, just where does the regiment plan to meet it for convoy?’

Lieutenant Forsythe: ‘Well, when the furry little animal jumped out of the bag he really jumped, didn’t he?’

Mohammed Khan: ‘Well, gentlemen? We have ways to make men talk.’


By contrast, consider this scenario:

She had not spoken in years. Catatonic. Traditional psychotherapy had proven to be ineffective.

The patient was sitting alone on a sofa when the therapist came into the room. He sat near to her, but not so near as to invade her space. She did not react to his presence. Without speaking he began to model her posture. He crossed his legs and folded his arms just as she was posed. He mimicked her head positioning and blank stare. Minutes passed. Not a sound other than their breathing.

His breathing pattern was now identical to that of the patient. Suddenly she turned to him and spoke for the first time in years, “Would you stop that?” The spell was broken and now he could begin an attempt at therapy.

Had she been tortured?

For some people, having a dog present in the room is torture — regardless of the animal’s personality or temperament.

There are situations in our world where information is needed. It can be obtained. The critical factor is the time involved. How quickly is this information needed? What will it take to get it?

A former CIA operations officer, speaking on background, said, “Discussing torture is like discussing theology, most people have their own views. Since there’s no agreed-upon definition – even the Geneva Convention is vague – it’s difficult to even discuss the topic objectively.” An important factor to consider is whether or not the person being interrogated is actually feeling “tortured” — or if he/she is just saying that because they were trained to claim “torture.”

Mark Mardell, North American Editor for the BBC recently asked Phil Mudd (who was deputy director of the Office of Terrorism Analysis at the CIA in 2001 and was not my source) a series of questions that formed the basis of THIS article. Mr Mudd says: “Nothing justifies torture. That’s it. Nothing.”

While agreeing with Mudd in principle, my source has provided some historical information that seems to contradict Mr. Mudd’s opinion.

“Those who are against torture claim that it never works. That is certainly not true.

“The Gestapo extracted many actionable secrets through torture.

“The French army destroyed the FLN cell structure in Algiers through torture.

“And waterboarding was demonstrably effective with KSM, although the U.S. Department of Justice at the time, had decreed that waterboarding was NOT torture.

“I believe that several former CIA directors testified that waterboarding produced most of the actionable intelligence that we had at that time – including the lead that eventually led to Osama bin Laden’s compound. My view is that torture is the lazy interrogator’s go-to technique and is not justifiable in most circumstances. The interrogation techniques in the military manual are appropriate with most prisoners of war. The FBI also maintains that gentler techniques work better. That is probably true when time is not a factor. However, in a ticking time bomb situation, there is no choice but to use whatever works within the time frame imposed on the interrogator.”

We are left with more questions than answers

What do we need to know?

How quickly do we need to know it?

Does the end justify the means?

Why is it that torture is universally condemned — yet still widely practiced?

Why is it so difficult to stop using torture once begun?

Does the old adage, “All’s fair in love and war?” apply here? What if our catatonic patient had been the President of the United States and the disarm code was needed to prevent the errant start of a nuclear war?

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