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A Critical Examination of Ben Carson, Part 8 - Torture

Ben CarsonThis is a continuation in my ongoing series to take a closer look at the views and positions of Ben Carson, in particular by looking at articles he's written. The index contains links to all of the entries in the series.

The article I'm going to look at today wasn't one of the original ones on his homepage when I started this project, but was added later. It's titled Democrats' wasteful torture report.

This is an issue I'd already written about in the entry, Depressing Poll - Majority of Americans Support Torture. I'll try not to repeat myself too much here, but I will repeat the conclusion up front, just to make it clear how I feel about this issue.

...I'm done with this entry. Every time I read through it again to proof-read or see if there's anything else I want to add, I just get angry. This is a horrible, horrible stain on our country's reputation. Everyone involved, from Bush and Cheney on down, ought to be taken to the Hague and tried for human rights abuses. But instead of justice, we live in a country where the majority supports this depravity.

Of course, I'm sure you can guess Carson's opinion on the matter.

However, when we are involved in a war, we should use every resource available to end it quickly and successfully, including the use of covert weapons and techniques that are not meant for public consumption.

Which is exactly why we don't hesitate to use nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons...

Second of all, the 'war' on terrorism is not like a conventional war. Terrorists are organized criminals, like the mafia, or gangs. Kill one leader, and another one will rise to take their place. Make an agreement with one branch, and another branch will act on their own. There won't ever be a peace treaty to stop the fighting - no armistice or V-E Day or V-J Day. There's not going to be any quick end. The only solutions are long term, and will require a lot more than just trying to kill all the bad guys.

Looking at the latter part of that quote, if techniques aren't 'meant for public consumption', perhaps there's a reason. When techniques are so horrible that you have to do them in secret, and would be ashamed if they became public, that's probably a very good reason not to do them at all. I know that war requires people to do bad things, but those people should at least be able to defend their actions in public.

It is absolutely foolhardy to believe that everyone is going to abide by the rules of moral war, if there is such a thing. If we allow our enemies to do anything they want to do, including the beheadings of our citizens, but we feel that we must accord them every courtesy and comfort, our days of winning wars will be over.

There's a reason Japanese and Nazi war criminals were tried and executed at the end of WWII. Their actions were so far beyond the pale, even during war time, that they couldn't be excused. Think about that. Even after the fighting was over and peace treaties had been signed, those war criminals had to face up to their crimes (and remember, some of the Japanese were even executed for water-boarding, the same torture technique that some people are now trying to say isn't so bad - Politifact). Are the war criminals in this country going to face up to their crimes if the war on terror ever ends?

And who's allowing terrorists 'to do anything they want to do'? I'm pretty sure that's part of the reason the U.S. is engaged in military action against them. We're already trying to kill them. Isn't that enough? If we sell our souls and sink to their level of depravity, then we've already abandoned the principles this country was founded on. Hell, even ignoring the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Third Amendment protects people from having to quarter troops. If that liberty of the military was considered going too far, how much worse is it to torture people?

Finally, even if we don't torture prisoners, I hardly think military prisons 'accord them every courtesy and comfort'.

We also need to understand that peace is much more likely to be realized if we are in a position of strength and possess a military force that cannot be challenged.

Peace through tyranny. That's the same type of peace that existed in the U.S.S.R. Excuse me if I have a hard time seeing the bastards who tortured people to death as representatives of 'peace'. I'd much rather see peace through diplomacy and cooperation, not threats and fear*.

The high-profile release of this information at a time when we are engaged in war with various terrorist groups demonstrates a profound lack of wisdom, since this information will be undoubtedly used as an effective recruitment tool by our enemies.

And when was this information supposed to be released? Or was it supposed to be kept secret forever? Like I wrote above, the 'war' on terror is not likely to end any time soon, since it's a war on organized crime, not a war against a nation or government. America is not supposed to be a tyranny or dictatorship. The government must answer to the American people. But if the government keeps their actions secret, how can there be accountability?

It already had been documented extensively that three suspects were water boarded and that techniques such as sleep deprivation were used to extract vital information from terrorists. That information played a part in the apprehension or annihilation of many upper-echelon terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden.

What about the prisoner who was tortured to death and died of exposure? What about prisoners who had food forced up their anus? What about the other victims of water boarding besides the three already known about. This report uncovered torture more extensive than the already horrible acts known about.

Another important finding of the report is that the claims of vital information gained through torture were at best exaggerated, or not even true. Almost all of the important information was gained through traditional, rapport based interrogation techniques. To quote an article from The Nation, Senate Report: CIA Torture Was Brutal and Ineffective:

If there's one sentence to take away from the report, it's this: "the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation." The report found literally not one instance where torture led to a useful piece of information that couldn't have been otherwise obtained by routine interrogation.

Looking at the larger issue of torture in general, and not just the CIA's use of it, here's a good article from the Guardian, Does torture work? To answer the headline in a word - no. And most parts of the government already know this. The article listed a quote from the US Army Training Manual's section on interrogation, "...the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear." The penultimate paragraph of that article made a very good point about the lack of evidence in favor of torture.

In spite of decades of use, and ample opportunity to gather statistics, there just isn't any scientific evidence beyond a few dubious anecdotes to show that torture works. Torture is an extreme method, and before we even reach the ethical and moral debate over its use, the effectiveness of it must be demonstrated to some reasonable degree. The burden of proof lies with the people who seek to torture. Any trials would of course be deeply unethical, but it's not like they don't have plenty of past experience to draw data from.

Despite claims coming from the organizations that committed the torture (and wouldn't you expect them to try to save their own hides at this point), there's no evidence that torture produces reliable intelligence, and plenty of evidence indicating that it goes the other way.

Here's the last quote from Carson I'm going to discuss.

Members of both parties need to take time to figure out who the real enemies are and stop trying to demonize each other.

Anybody who's willing to sacrifice the ideals of this country is, if not necessarily an enemy, certainly not an ally. This isn't a partisan political issue, unless your partisanship allows you to forgive war criminals. I've already commented on this blog once before about my disgust with Obama's use of the double tap drone strike (Cynicism, Part III). I even said that "if I had any belief that presidents would be held accountable, I'd like to see Obama and Bush both taken to the Hague over their actions in the fight against terrorism." Any American who commits war crimes should be held accountable. We lose any semblance of moral high ground if we allow them to get away with it just because they're on our side.


This was perhaps the most difficult entry for me to write in this series, because it was a bit of a struggle not to reduce my writing to strings of four letter words directed at Carson. The fact that the torture took place in the first place and was actually condoned from the highest office in the land is bad enough. That people like Carson make excuses for and justify the torture is disgusting. To use a well known quote from a dark time in our country's past, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Summary on RealBenCarson.com: Democrats' Wasteful Torture Report

Continue to Part 9 - Shoddy Scholarship

*I still recognize the importance of a strong military - "Speak softly, and carry a big stick." The world is full of people and groups who would use violence to reach their goals, and there must be a military to stop them. Just imagine what a leader like Putin would do if there was no U.S. military. But military action should be used sparingly, and close to a last resort. However, in an article discussing using torture against enemies of the state and maintaining secret operations with no accountability to the American people, it sounds rather Orwellian to praise a strong military in that context.

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